"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Neo-Totalitarianism’

The Struggle To Save Our Planet Heats Up

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Adapting to Climate ChangeOldspeak: “To get to the root of the issue, it becomes necessary to analyze the whole economic system of production and exchange of goods and services—that is, capitalism. Only by doing this can we hope to formulate an effective strategy to combat climate change and thereby recognize that ecological and social justice are inseparably connected to each other, via an organized, grassroots and global challenge to the capitalist social order…

One doesn’t need to be an anti-capitalist to take part in this struggle, but one does need to recognize that unless the pendulum of social power swings back toward the working people in the U.S. and around the world, and that limits and regulations are placed on the activities of corporate power, we have no hope of saving our world. This struggle is not really about technology or which renewable energy models should be deployed or whether this or that politician or this corporation or that CEO is more or less evil than the other. It’s not about things or people at all—it’s about relationships. It’s about democracy, which is itself about social power, and the relationships it presumes.

The power of the oceans, the power of scientific rationality, the power of the tides and hurricane-force winds are self-evidently not enough to persuade capitalists to act. The only force strong enough to do that is the organized force of the people. We must take the place of gravity to pull the pendulum of contending class forces—wrenched rightward by 30 years of neoliberalism—back toward our side.” -Chris Williams.

YES! The root of the issue is capitalism. We have to stop nibbling around the edges. We have to recognize that capitalism in its current globalized and unrestrained form is fundamentally at odds with Democracy, human and natural rights. We have to have an honest critical discussion about global capital and how it’s destroying our planet. We must reassert our sacred commitment, as our ancestors did for millennia, to be custodians of our earth mother, not her rapists. We must recognize that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. The global capitalist enterprise is collapsing and blowing up all around us, one need only look to texas and Bangladesh and the explosion in unemployment and poverty, the collapse of ecosystems, to see what’s happening.  We cannot keep dumping wasteful trillions into failing, obsolete, toxic, fossil and nuclear fuel based infrastructure that is destroying and poisoning our planet. We have to fundamentally rethink how we organize our civilization and economy. The systems we have are not working.

By Chris Williams @ Z Magazine:

Capitalism stands as a death sentinel over planetary life. Recent reports from institutions, such as the World Bank, detail how, as a result of human activity, we are on track for a 4° Celsius increase in average global temperatures. Should this come to pass, the Earth would be hotter than at any time in the last 30 million years; an absolutely devastating prognosis that will wipe out countless species as ecosystems destabilize and climate becomes a vortex of erratic, wild weather events.

Despite this Americans, suffered through an election campaign in which climate change literally wasn’t mentioned—at least until the final weeks, when a hurricane forced the presidential candidates to acknowledge it.

Even as the World Bank published its report—with the conclusion that avoiding a 4° temperature increase was “vital for the health and welfare of communities around the world”—bank officials were nevertheless still handing out loans to construct more than two dozen coal-fired power plants to the tune of $5 billion.

In direct contrast to politicians and the media, fully 80 percent of Americans believe that climate change will be a serious problem for the United States unless the government does something about it—with 57 percent saying the government should do a “great deal” or “quite a bit.”

Even for the 1 in 3 Americans who say they are wary of science and distrust scientists, 61 percent now agree that temperatures have risen over the last 100 years. Commenting on the new poll, Stanford University social psychologist and pollster Jon Crosskick wrote, “They don’t believe what the scientists say, they believe what the thermometers say…. Events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along.”

This background of overwhelming public concern helped situate the national demonstration in Washington, DC on February 17, against the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas. If built, the pipeline will carry 800,000 barrels a day of highly-polluting tar sands oil, effectively dealing a death blow to hopes of preventing rampant climate change. The demonstration added significance as activists attempted to draw a line in the sand and pose the first big litmus test for the second term of Barack Obama.

Given that an overwhelming majority of Americans, and even most people hostile to climate science, are in favor of action, why is it that the overwhelming majority of politicians—who presumably are subject to the same weather as the rest of us—can’t seem to see the need? Why aren’t our elected representatives proposing serious measures to prevent it from getting worse?

How one answers this question is not one of semantics. Rather, it is of decisive importance because it determines how one should fight and with whom one should forge alliances. Unfortunately, it is a question that Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org and a key organizer of the February 17 demonstration, has struggled with, but not conclusively resolved. His confusion is evidenced by the title of an article he wrote in January: “Our Protest Must Short-Circuit the Fossil Fuel Interests Blocking Barack Obama”—implying that Obama would do something if he could.

The momentum generated from this demonstration may serve as the launching pad for a sustained campaign that begins to stitch together the myriad forces fighting locally around the country, transforming previously isolated or single-issue initiatives and groups into a broad united front for climate justice that draws in other forces, such as unions.

This was the position of Big Green groups like the Sierra Club. Even as it pledged for the first time to take part in civil disobedience, its executive director, Michael Brune, declared that the new strategy was part of “a larger plan to support the president in realizing his vision and make sure his ambition meets the scale of the challenge.”

The first thing Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry could do is say no to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. That would be inordinately easy, as Obama has the final say and doesn’t require Congress’ support to shut it down. After 53 senators from both parties signed a letter urging him to green-light the pipeline, Obama is running out of ways to further delay his decision.

In spite of the rhetoric of his inaugural address, the pivotal question remains: Is Barack Obama—or any Democratic leader, for that matter—really on our side? Is it just a question of persuading a reluctant friend, hamstrung by a right-wing, dysfunctional Congress and stymied by powerful corporate interests, to act by demonstrating outside his house to let him know we’re there for him? Or should we be surrounding his house, knowing full well that he won’t give in to our demands without a social movement that acts independently of his wishes and control.

To understand the reasons for Obama’s “lack of desire” to address climate change—a microcosm of the larger inability of global leaders and institutions to do likewise amid two decades of futile climate negotiations—it’s necessary to go beneath the surface appearance of things; to examine the structure and ideology of the system of capitalism.

Systemic Causes

When their financial system was threatened by the crisis that began in 2008, political leaders didn’t sit around for 20 years arguing that they had to wait until all the facts were in and attempting to reach consensus on a solution. No, in a heartbeat, they threw trillions of dollars at the banks.

But when a far larger crisis, one that threatens the basic stability of the planetary biosphere, unfurls as a result of the same policies of reckless growth, waste and warfare, they spend their time trashing scientists and ignoring the unraveling weather outside their windows. Therefore, to get to the root of the issue, it becomes necessary to analyze the whole economic system of production and exchange of goods and services—that is, capitalism. Only by doing this can we hope to formulate an effective strategy to combat climate change and thereby recognize that ecological and social justice are inseparably connected to each other, via an organized, grassroots and global challenge to the capitalist social order.

One doesn’t need to be an anti-capitalist to take part in this struggle, but one does need to recognize that unless the pendulum of social power swings back toward the working people in the U.S. and around the world, and that limits and regulations are placed on the activities of corporate power, we have no hope of saving our world. This struggle is not really about technology or which renewable energy models should be deployed or whether this or that politician or this corporation or that CEO is more or less evil than the other. It’s not about things or people at all—it’s about relationships. It’s about democracy, which is itself about social power, and the relationships it presumes.

The power of the oceans, the power of scientific rationality, the power of the tides and hurricane-force winds are self-evidently not enough to persuade capitalists to act. The only force strong enough to do that is the organized force of the people. We must take the place of gravity to pull the pendulum of contending class forces—wrenched rightward by 30 years of neoliberalism—back toward our side.

Ultimately, as a socialist, I would argue that we need to live in a world where there are no classes with diametrically opposed interests, in perpetual conflict over social and political power. Only in such a socially just and ecologically sustainable world will there be any long-term hope for humanity to live in peace with itself, other species, and the planet on which we depend. The stepping-stones of the revolutionary road are the acts of struggle needed to create it.

In contrast to his inaugural speech, Obama’s first press conference after re-election gave a more accurate insight into the priorities of his second term. Unlike four out of five Americans who want the government to do something to address climate change, Obama made it clear that this wouldn’t be a priority for his administration: “Understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

With two mentions of the need for “growth” in a single sentence, Obama faithfully echoed the declaration of the Earth Summit, Rio+20, held in June 2012, where the representatives of 190 countries, while dismally avoiding any commitment to new targets or limits on greenhouse gas emissions, did commit—16 times in all—to “sustained growth,” a phrase taken to be synonymous, rather than in fundamental conflict, with another term: “sustainability.”

The obligation to promote growth underlines why the root of the climate problem is systemic. If capitalism is not growing, it is in crisis. Growth must occur continuously and in all sectors. If the sector in question is highly profitable, it will grow even faster, regardless of any social considerations.

Like, for example, the fossil-fuel sector. Oil production, rather than declining, as is desperately needed to stop climate change, is predicted to increase from the current 93 million barrels per day to 110 million by 2020—with some of the biggest increases worldwide occurring in the U.S. The Holy Grail of all administrations since Richard Nixon —energy independence—is being made possible by the policies of the Obama administration, as the New York Times reported in a special feature: “National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly 7 million barrels by 2020. Some experts think it could eventually hit 10 million barrels—which would put the United States in the same league as Saudi Arabia.”

As the climate blogger and former Clinton administration official Joseph Romm put it, Obama is “basically pushing a moderate Republican agenda. It’s just that there aren’t any moderate Republicans left, much as we don’t have any ‘below average temperature’ years any more.”

Again, if we examine the roots of the issue, we find that the pathetic response of an administration purporting to be concerned with environmental questions has much less to do with individual personnel than with the dynamics of capitalism.

In 1992, when George H.W. Bush flew to Rio for the first Earth Summit, all things seemed possible. The “evil empire”—as Ronald Reagan liked to call the tyrannical dictatorships of the USSR and Eastern Europe, which operated falsely in the name of socialism—had collapsed under the weight of its own economic, social, and ecological contradictions. Politicians in the West were euphoric. They had seen off what they perceived to be an existential threat to their system.

In today’s world of enforced austerity, it’s difficult to recapture the sense of optimism that pervaded Western ruling class circles in the early 1990s. The atmosphere of triumphalism was so great even Republican presidents like Bush could make promises about protecting the environment. A few years later, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was written, Western governments were still willing to pledge that they would do the heavy lifting with regard to reducing emissions, while developing countries would be free from such limits.

Hence, the seeming “lack of will” at Rio+20 last year can be much better explained by the onset of a huge structural crisis of capitalism, rather than the “lack of vision” of individual politicians.

Instead of optimism about acting on climate change, the real optimism these days among capitalists is about the profits they can make from the oil and gas bonanza. Oil giant and planet-wrecker par excellence BP is predicting that by 2030, the entire Western Hemisphere will be energy independent, due to the expansion of new techniques for oil and gas exploration, such as fracking in shale deposits and horizontal and deep-water drilling. Fossil fuels are expected to remain at 81 percent of the energy mix in an energy economy that will be 39 percent larger than today.

Naturally, oil executives such as Scott D. Sheffield, chief executive of Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources—headquartered in an area of the world that received only two inches of rain for the whole of 2011 and spent most of the year with large parts of the state on fire—are nevertheless overjoyed: “To not be concerned with where our oil is going to come from is probably the biggest home run for the country in a hundred years… It sort of reminds me of the industrial revolution in coal, which allowed us to have some of the cheapest energy in the world and drove our economy in the late 1800s and 1900s.”

Depending on who you are, the outlook for natural gas is even rosier. The International Energy Agency recently released a report that asked in its title “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Gas?” The answer was a resounding “yes,” due to the North American shale gas boom and a “strong post-crisis recovery.”

The other side to this “golden age,” as the report makes clear, is that future economic expansion based on natural gas “alone will not put the world on a carbon emissions path consistent with an average global temperature rise of no more than 2° Celsius,” but on a “trajectory consistent with stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at around 650 parts per million CO2 equivalent, suggesting a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5°  Celsius.”

Insane Logic

In the insane capitalist “logic” of the 21st century, short-term profit-taking must be maximized at all costs. In a little-reported phenomenon, the energy companies have figured out that they can find oil in shale deposits previously considered marginal in the same way that they “frack” for natural gas. With the price of oil over $80 a barrel, it’s profitable to seek oil in this way, regardless of the environmental cost.

Hence, not only is there a natural gas boom in the U.S., but there’s also an enormous, though much less publicized, oil boom. In fact, the oil boom from previously untapped shale deposits is so large that its effects can be seen from space. The Bakken Field in North Dakota, all 15,000 square miles of it, is one of the largest contiguous oil fields in the world, with output doubling every 18 months. In Texas, production from the Eagle Field increased 30-fold between 2010 and 2012. The reason that the remote and sparsely populated Bakken Field rivals Chicago in light pollution, making it visible to orbiting satellites, is because the natural gas that comes up with the oil, rather than being collected and sold, is set on fire in a process called “flaring.” This senseless act of vandalism and waste is the result of the fact that companies are in a rush to make money from oil that they can’t be bothered to develop the infrastructure necessary to cope with associated natural gas.

As Stanford University academic Adam Brandt, who analyzes greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, explains: “Companies are in a race with their competitors to develop the resource, which means there is little incentive to delay production to reduce flaring.” In Texas, the natural gas flared in 2012 could have provided electricity to 400,000 homes.

So while one set of capitalists is fracking for natural gas on the East Coast—thanks to political leaders like Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, who appears to be ready to open up the state to fracking—in other parts of the country, a different set of capitalists is setting fire to the exact same gas because it’s a nuisance that slows down production of the different fossil fuel they’re after.

Nothing could exemplify the utter waste and anarchic insanity of capitalism than this fact. One of the government regulatory bodies supposedly in charge of overseeing the oil corporations, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission, gave their logic for refusing to take action against this senselessness: “If we restricted oil production to reduce flaring, we would reduce the cash flow from oil wells fivefold…. As well as cutting waste, we are mandated to increase production, which we would not be doing.”

As for the third and dirtiest arm of the triumvirate of fossil fuels, the world is predicted to be burning 1.2 billion tons more coal per year in 2017. Coal has actually declined in use in the U.S. due to companies switching electricity production to cheaper natural gas, which has reduced U.S. carbon emissions.

One might think this is a good thing. However, capitalism is a global system, so any coal not sold here finds a market overseas. The Chinese population is literally choking to death on grotesque amounts of air pollution in cities such as Beijing. And who’s to blame? The U.S. government says China is building too many coal plants, but increasing amounts of the coal in Asia is coming from mines in the U.S. According to a report in ClimateWire: “Although Chinese coal is largely sourced from domestic mines, EIA figures show that U.S. coal shipments to China have dramatically risen in recent years, punctuated by a 107 percent jump from 2011 to 2012. Chinese imports of U.S. coal surged from 4 million tons in 2011 to 8.3 million tons last year.”

This brings us to the international dimension—and the economic and military competition between countries that makes it impossible for effective international agreements on climate change and emissions reduction to be negotiated. If Barack Obama really wanted to do something about reducing energy consumption in America—and killing a lot fewer people around the world—he could start with a massive reduction in military spending. The U.S. military is the single biggest user of energy in the United States, with the Department of Defense responsible for 80 percent of government energy requirements. Just the cost of the war in Iraq would have paid, from now until 2030, for all the investment in renewable energies necessary to stay below 2° Celsius of warming.

These examples illustrate two things. First, we are in a do-or-die battle with the economic system because capitalism is in fundamental conflict with the biosphere. And second, only a committed alliance of social and ecological justice activists that is clear about the nature of the enemy and prepared to confront the political and economic architects of the crisis stands a hope of winning.

This is why fighting the XL pipeline is about much more than stopping a single pipeline or the first test of Obama’s second term. It’s about building a movement for social and ecological justice and making it clear that we are going to organize to prevent any more infrastructure being built that will drive us over the ecological cliff.

As energy analyst Chris Nelder has put it, we face a choice between keeping the old fossil-fuel based infrastructure that is burning up the planet, and adding to it at an annual cost of $1.6 trillion just to keep it running—or transitioning, at much lower economic, let alone environmental, cost, to a new energy paradigm. His figures and argument are worthy of a lengthy quote: “Instead of incremental spending on an effectively dead transportation regime, we should be thinking about one that can survive the challenges ahead, and deliver more economic benefits than costs. We should be setting an ambitious target, like replacing all commercial passenger air flights with high speed rail for trips under 1,000 miles, replacing 90 percent of our city street traffic with light rail, and moving all long-haul freight traffic to rail. Even if the cost of all that rail infrastructure were in the range of $3 trillion, it would be a fantastic investment.

“Against $6 trillion (minimum) in sunk costs and $1.6 trillion per year in maintenance, the $1.2 trillion per year, plus building the high speed rail network at a generous estimate of $1 trillion, looks very reasonable.

“Put another way: Would you rather spend another $32 trillion over the next 20 years just to maintain a outmoded, unscaleable, aged, unhealthy system, plus another $2.8 trillion in lost productivity due to delays and gridlock, only to wind up out of gas? Or would you rather spend $25 trillion to repair our infrastructure, transition transportation to rail, transition the power grid to renewables, upgrade the entire grid, and solve the carbon problem, to have free fuel forever.”

Of course, whether we travel that road or not—and whether we leave a world to our descendants as beautiful as the one we were born into—will depend on our own independent, organized self-activity to wrench control away from a ruling elite that is quite happy to continue making money from a system that must be overturned.

Chris Williams is an environmental activist, professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University, and the author of Ecology and Socialism.

Bi-Partisan NDAA Provision Would End Current Ban On Domestic Dissemination Of Propaganda By U.S. State Department & Pentagon

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Oldspeak:”This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer” -Will RogersNothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our “representatives”, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!” Juan Cole The thought controllers, ever brazen in their audacity, have decided to officially do away with laws alleged to “prevent” them from doing what they have been doing for the past 100 years. Not sure what will be terribly different about the propaganda, we’re currently inundated with it. More overt perhaps? That wouldn’t make much sense though, why fix what’s been working to devastating effect for a century? *Shrugs* “Ignorance is Strength

By Washington’s Blog:

Because Banning Propaganda “Ties the Hands of America’s Diplomatic Officials, Military, and Others by Inhibiting Our Ability to Effectively Communicate In a Credible Way”

Michael Hastings reports:

An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill….

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

In a little noticed press release earlier in the week — buried beneath the other high-profile issues in the $642 billion defense bill, including indefinite detention and a prohibition on gay marriage at military installations — Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

Critics of the bill say there are ways to keep America safe without turning the massive information operations apparatus within the federal government against American citizens.

***

“I just don’t want to see something this significant – whatever the pros and cons – go through without anyone noticing,” “ says one source on the Hill, who is disturbed by the law. According to this source, the law would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”

The new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Critics of the bill point out that there was rigorous debate when Smith Mundt passed, and the fact that this is so “under the radar,” as the Pentagon official puts it, is troubling.

***

The evaporation of Smith-Mundt and other provisions to safeguard U.S. citizens against government propaganda campaigns is part of a larger trend within the diplomatic and military establishment.

In December, the Pentagon used software to monitor the Twitter debate over Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing; another program being developed by the Pentagon would design software to create “sock puppets” on social media outlets; and, last year, General William Caldwell, deployed an information operations team under his command that had been trained in psychological operations to influence visiting American politicians to Kabul.

The upshot, at times, is the Department of Defense using the same tools on U.S. citizens as on a hostile, foreign, population.

A U.S. Army whistleblower, Lieutenant Col. Daniel Davis, noted recently in his scathing 84-page unclassified report on Afghanistan that there remains a strong desire within the defense establishment “to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to “protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will,” he wrote, quoting a well-regarded general.

The defense bill passed the House Friday afternoon.

Juan Cole notes:

Nothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our representatives, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!

***

Of course, having a Pentagon propaganda unit at all is highly anti-democratic. The best defense of the truth is a free press. It should also be remembered that nowadays everything in Washington is outsourced, so government propaganda is often being turned over to Booz Allen or the American Enterprise Institute ….

Doing propaganda abroad has the difficulty that it doesn’t stay abroad. False articles placed in the Arabic press in Iraq were translated into English by wire services, who got stung.

Then, another problem is that the Defense Intelligence Agency analysts *also* read the false articles placed in the Arabic press by *another* Pentagon office, which they did not know about. So the analysts were passing up to the White House false information provided by their own colleagues!

Mediaite points out:

The military has been trying to find new avenues for spread U.S. propaganda on social media websites for a while now. A 2011 Wired piece details how the Department of Defense has been working on ways to monitor and engage in “countermessaging” on social media sites like Twitter.

Government Has Been Illegally Using Propaganda for Decades

Of course – even though it is currently illegal – the government has already been using propaganda against U.S. audiences for decades.   Government agencies – including both the Department of Defense and other agencies – are actively manipulating social media for propaganda purposes, to crush dissent (and see this), to help the too big to fail businesses compete against smaller businesses (and here), and to promote viewpoints which have nothing to do with keeping us safe.

For example:

  • The New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages
  • A 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques
  • The Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda
  • And one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda

We noted in 2009:

The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to “fight the net”.

As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called “Information Operations Roadmap”:

The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that
information put out as part of the military’s psychological
operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and
television screens of ordinary Americans.

“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public
diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic
audience,” it reads.

“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much
larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.

***

“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of
Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system”.

Indeed, the Pentagon publicly announced years ago that it was considering using “black propaganda” – in other words, knowing lies.

CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be “[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.”

The Air Force is now also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”

In other words, the government is targeting “social media”, including popular user-ranked news sites.

In addition, when you look at what the Israeli lobby has done with Megaphone software to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this, this and this), you can start to see how the U.S. military – an even larger and better-funded organization – could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort.

Moreover,the military has outsourced many projects to private contractors. For example, in Iraq, much of the fighting has been outsourced to Blackwater. And governmental intelligence functions have largely been outsourced to private companies.

It is therefore not impossible that the government is hiring cheap labor to downvote stories on the social media sites which question the government, and to post pro-government comments.

Raw Story reported last year that the Air Force ordered software to manage army of sock puppets:

Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people?In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

“There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.

Government involvement

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

***

That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

***

“Team Themis” [tasked by the Chamber of Commerce to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others] also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.

And see this, this, this, this.

Wired reported last year:

The Pentagon is looking to build a tool to sniff out social media propaganda campaigns and spit some counter-spin right back at it.

On Thursday, Defense Department extreme technology arm Darpa unveiled its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

This is more than just checking the trending topics on Twitter. The Defense Department wants to deeply grok social media dynamics. So SMISC algorithms will be aimed at discovering and tracking the “formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes)” on social media, according to Darpa’s announcement.

***

SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

***

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere.

Gene Howington writes that mainstream media – including NPR – have used propaganda on American audiences to shape the debate on numerous issues:

Consider the use of media outlets like NPR that made a public and conscious decision to refrain from reporting on “torture” – a word with extremely negative denotation and connotation – and instead choosing to use the euphemistic language “enhanced interrogation”. Everyone with a conscience thinks torture is a bad thing and torturers are ethically abhorrent people. It’s not only a Federal crime, cruel and unusual punishment is specifically barred by the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. The word choice here is designed to clearly shift public attitudes from “those guys need to be prosecuted as criminals” to “maybe they aren’t so bad after all”. NPR (aided by the Bush Administration no doubt)  chose words with a neutral/positive value load compared to the word “torture”.  Connotation plays to your emotional response over your rational response.  When the word choice becomes more subtle, the damage of connotations can be even more insidious. Compare:

  • war – limited police action
  • conquest – liberation
  • famine – widespread hunger
  • pestilence – outbreak
  • death – casualties

Indeed – in the ultimate Kafkaesque nightmare – the Pentagon recently used black propaganda to smear USA Today reporters who were investigating illegal Pentagon propaganda.

Virtually Everything Government Does Is Propaganda

It is a sad fact that virtually everything government does these days is propaganda.

For example, the government has tried to corral the American public into a certain view on the economy: One that says that the big banks are more or less healthy, that they must be saved at all costs, that we need not prosecute Wall Street fraud, and that an economic recovery is just around the corner.

Indeed, in response to virtually every problem, the government puts out spin covering up the severity of the crisis and pretending that the problem was “unexpected” and that it won’t happen again … so we can keep on doing the exact same thing. This is true in regards to the financial crisis, Wall Street fraud, nuclear accidents, oil spills, groundwater pollution and a host of other problems.

Indeed, it sometimes seem like the only thing the government does these days is to provide propaganda on behalf of special interests so they can make more money.

 

 

Dangerous Pedagogy In The Age Of Casino Capitalism & Religious Fundamentalism

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Oldspeak:The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures… it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education.” -Henry A. Giroux   When education is utterly commodified and privatized, democracy dies; corporatocracy rules. “Ignorance Is Strength.” “Freedom Is Slavery.”Profit Is Paramount.”

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

All over the world, the forces of neoliberalism are on the march, dismantling the historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, defining profit-making and market freedoms as the essence of democracy while diminishing civil liberties as part of the alleged “war” against terrorism. Secure in its dystopian vision that there are no alternatives to a market society, free-market fundamentalism eliminates issues of contingency, struggle and social agency by celebrating the inevitability of economic laws in which the ethical ideal of intervening in the world gives way to the idea that we “have no choice but to adapt both our hopes and our abilities to the new global market.”[1] Coupled with an ever-expanding culture of fear, market freedoms seem securely grounded in a defense of national security and the institutions of finance capital. Under such circumstances, a neoliberal model now bears down on American society, threatening to turn it into an authoritarian state. The script is now familiar: there is no such thing as the common good; market values become the template for shaping all aspects of society; the free, possessive individual has no obligations to anything other than his or her self-interest; profit-making is the essence of democracy; the government, and particularly the welfare state, is the arch-enemy of freedom; private interests trump public values; consumerism is the essence of citizenship; privatization is the essence of freedom; law and order is the new language for mobilizing shared fears rather than shared responsibilities;  war is the new organizing principle for organizing society and the economy; theocracy now becomes the legitimating code for punishing women, young people, the elderly, and those groups marginalized by class, race and ethnicity when religious moralism is needed to shore up the war against all social order.[2]

Given this current crisis, educators need a new political and pedagogical language for addressing the changing contexts and issues facing a world in which capital draws upon an unprecedented convergence of resources – financial, cultural, political, economic, scientific, military and technological – to exercise powerful and diverse forms of control. If educators and others are to counter global capitalism’s increased ability to separate the traditional nation-state-based space of politics from the transnational reach of power, it is crucial to develop educational approaches that reject a collapse of the distinction between market liberties and civil liberties, a market economy and a market society. This suggests developing forms of critical pedagogy capable of challenging neoliberalism and other anti-democratic traditions, such as the emerging religious fundamentalism in the United States, while resurrecting a radical democratic project that provides the basis for imagining a life beyond the “dream world” of capitalism.  Under such circumstances, education becomes more than testing, an obsession with accountability schemes, zero-tolerance policies and a site for simply training students for the workforce. At stake here is recognizing the power of education in creating the formative culture necessary to both challenge the various threats being mobilized against the very idea of justice and democracy while also fighting for those public spheres and formative cultures that offer alternative modes of identity, social relations and politics.

The search for a new politics and a new critical language that crosses a range of theoretical divides must reinvigorate the relationship between democracy, ethics, and political agency by expanding the meaning of the pedagogical as a political practice while at the same time making the political more pedagogical. In the first instance, it is crucial to recognize that pedagogy has less to do with the language of technique and methodology than it does with issues of politics and power. Pedagogy is a moral and political practice that is always implicated in power relations and must be understood as a cultural politics that offers both a particular version and vision of civic life, the future, and how we might construct representations of ourselves, others, and our physical and social environment. As Roger Simon observes:

As an introduction to, preparation for, and legitimation of particular forms of social life, education always presupposes a vision of the future. In this respect a curriculum and its supporting pedagogy are a version of our own dreams for ourselves, our children, and our communities. But such dreams are never neutral; they are always someone’s dreams and to the degree that they are implicated in organizing the future for others they always have a moral and political dimension. It is in this respect that any discussion of pedagogy must begin with a discussion of educational practice as a form of cultural politics, as a particular way in which a sense of identity, place, worth, and above all value is – informed by practices which organize knowledge and meaning.[3]

An oppositional cultural politics can take many forms, but given the current assault by neoliberalism on all aspects of democratic public life, it seems imperative that educators revitalize the struggles to create conditions in which learning would be linked to social change in a wide variety of social sites, and pedagogy would take on the task of regenerating both a renewed sense of social and political agency and a critical subversion of dominant power itself. Making the political more pedagogical rests on the assumption that education takes place a variety of sites outside of the school. Under such circumstances, agency becomes the site through which power is not transcended but reworked, replayed and restaged in productive ways. Central to my argument is the assumption that politics is not only about power, but also, as Cornelius Castoriadis points out, “has to do with political judgements and value choices,”[4] indicating that questions of civic education and critical pedagogy (learning how to become a skilled citizen) are central to the struggle over political agency and democracy. In this instance, critical pedagogy emphasizes critical reflexivity, bridging the gap between learning and everyday life, understanding the connection between power and knowledge, and extending democratic rights and identities by using the resources of history. However, among many educators and social theorists, there is a widespread refusal to recognize that this form of education is not only the foundation for expanding and enabling political agency, but also that it takes place across a wide variety of public spheres mediated through the very force of culture itself.

One of the central tasks of any viable critical pedagogy would be to make visible alternative models of radical democratic relations in a wide variety of sites. These spaces can make the pedagogical more political by raising fundamental questions such as: what is the relationship between social justice and the distribution of public resources and goods? What are the conditions, knowledge and skills that are a prerequisite for civic literacy, political agency and social change? What kinds of identities, desires and social relations are being produced and legitimated in diverse sites of teaching and learning? How might the latter prepare or undermine the ability of students to be self-reflective, exercise judgment, engage in critical dialogues, and assume some responsibility for addressing the challenges to democracy at a national and global level? At the very least, such a project involves understanding and critically engaging dominant public transcripts and values within a broader set of historical and institutional contexts. Making the political more pedagogical in this instance suggests producing modes of knowledge and social practices in a variety of sites that not only affirm oppositional thinking, dissent and cultural work, but also offer opportunities to mobilize instances of collective outrage and collective action. Such mobilization opposes glaring material inequities and the growing cynical belief that today’s culture of investment and finance makes it impossible to address many of the major social problems facing both the United States and the larger world. Most importantly, such work points to the link between civic education, critical pedagogy and modes of oppositional political agency that are pivotal to creating a politics that promotes democratic values, relations,  autonomy and social change. Hints of such a politics is already evident in the various approaches the Occupy movement has taken in reclaiming the discourse of democracy and in collectively challenging the values and practices of finance capital. Borrowing a line from Rachel Donadio, the Occupy movement protesters are raising questions about “what happens to democracy when banks become more powerful than political institutions?”[5] What kind of education does it take, both in and out of schools, to recognize the dissolution of democracy and the emergence of an authoritarian state?

In taking up these questions and the challenges they pose, critical pedagogy proposes that education is a form of political intervention in the world and is capable of creating the possibilities for social transformation. Rather than viewing teaching as technical practice, pedagogy, in the broadest critical sense, is premised on the assumption that learning is not about processing received knowledge, but actually transforming knowledge as part of a more expansive struggle for individual rights and social justice. This implies that any viable notion of pedagogy and resistance should illustrate how knowledge, values, desire and social relations are always implicated in relations of power, and how such an understanding can be used pedagogically and politically by students to further expand and deepen the imperatives of economic and political democracy. The fundamental challenge facing educators within the current age of neoliberalism, militarism and religious fundamentalism is to provide the conditions for students to address how knowledge is related to the power of both self-definition and social agency. In part, this means providing students with the skills, knowledge and authority they need to inquire and act upon what it means to live in a substantive democracy, to recognize anti-democratic forms of power, and to fight deeply rooted injustices in a society and world founded on systemic economic, racial and gendered inequalities.

The Responsibility of Teachers as Public Intellectuals

In the age of irresponsible privatization, it is difficult to recognize that educators and other cultural workers bear an enormous responsibility in opposing the current threat to the planet and everyday life by bringing democratic political culture back to life. While liberal democracy offers an important discourse around issues of “rights, freedoms, participation, self-rule, and citizenship,” it has been mediated historically through the “damaged and burdened tradition” of racial and gender exclusions, economic injustice and a formalistic, ritualized democracy, which substituted the swindle for the promise of democratic participation.[6] At the same time, liberal and republican traditions of Western democratic thought have given rise to forms of social and political criticism that at least contained a “referent” for addressing the deep gap between the promise of a radical democracy and the existing reality. With the rise of neoliberalism, referents for imagining even a weak democracy, or, for that matter, for understanding the tensions between capitalism and democracy, which animated political discourse for the first half of the 20th century, appear to be overwhelmed by market discourses, identities and practices, on the one hand, or a corrosive cynicism on the other. And, of course, at the present moment a kind of political lunacy that testifies to the rise of extremism in America. Democracy has now been reduced to a metaphor for the alleged “free” market and, in some cases, to the image of a theocratic state. It is not that a genuine democratic public space once existed in some ideal form and has now been corrupted by the values of the market, but that these democratic public spheres, even in limited forms, seem to no longer be animating concepts for making visible the contradiction and tension between the reality of existing democracy and the promise of a more fully realized, substantive democracy. Part of the challenge of linking critical pedagogy with the process of democratization suggests constructing new locations of struggle, vocabularies and subject positions that allow people in a wide variety of public spheres to become more than they are now, to question what it is they have become within existing institutional and social formations, and to give some thought to what it might mean to transform existing relations of subordination and oppression.

Critical Pedagogy as a Project of Intervention

If educators are to revitalize the language of civic education as part of a broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world, they will have to consider grounding such a pedagogy in a defense of what I have called in the past, “educated hope.”[7] Such hope is built upon recognizing pedagogy as part of a broader attempt to revitalize the conditions for individual and social agency while simultaneously addressing critical pedagogy as a project informed by a democratic political vision while conscious of the diverse ways such a vision gets mediated in different contexts. Such a project also suggests recasting the relationship between the pedagogical and political as a project that is indeterminate, open to constant revision and constantly in dialogue with its own assumptions. The concept of the project in this sense speaks to the directive nature of pedagogy, the recognition that any pedagogical practice presupposes some notion of the future, prioritizes some forms of identification over others and upholds selective modes of social relations. At the same time, the normative nature of such a pedagogy does not offer guarantees as much as it recognizes that its own position is grounded in modes of authority, values and ethical considerations that must be constantly debated for the ways in which they both open up and close down democratic relations, values and identities. Central to both keeping any notion of critical pedagogy alive is the recognition that it must address real social needs, be imbued with a passion for democracy and provide the conditions for expanding democratic forms of political and social agency.

Critical Pedagogy as a Matter of Context, Ethics and Politics

In opposition to the increasingly dominant views of education and cultural politics, I want to argue for a transformative pedagogy rooted in the project of resurgent democracy, one that relentlessly questions the kinds of labor, practices and forms of production that are enacted in public and higher education. Such an analysis should be relational and contextual, as well as self-reflective and theoretically rigorous. By relational, I mean that the current crisis of schooling must be understood in relation to the broader assault that is being waged against all aspects of democratic public life. As Jeffrey Williams has recently pointed out, “the current restructuring of higher education is only one facet of the restructuring of civic life in the US whereby previously assured public entitlements such as healthcare, welfare, and social security have evaporated or been ‘privatized,’ so no solution can be separated from a larger vision of what it means to enfranchise citizens or our republic.”[8] But as important as such articulations are in understanding the challenges that public and higher education face in the current historical conjuncture, they do not go far enough. Any critical comprehension of those wider forces that shape public and higher education must also be supplemented by an attentiveness to the conditional nature of pedagogy itself. This suggests that pedagogy can never be treated as a fixed set of principles and practices that can be applied indiscriminately across a variety of pedagogical sites. Pedagogy is not some recipe that can be imposed on all classrooms. On the contrary, it must always be contextually defined, allowing it to respond specifically to the conditions, formations and problems that arise in various sites in which education takes place. Schools differ in their financing, quality of teachers, resources, histories and cultural capital. Recognizing this, educators can both address the meaning and purpose that schools might play in their relationship to the demands of the broader society while simultaneously being sensitive to the distinctive nature of the issues educators address within the shifting contexts in which they interact with a diverse body of students, texts and institutional formations.

Ethically, critical pedagogy requires an ongoing indictment “of those forms of truth-seeking which imagined themselves to be eternally and placelessly valid.” [9] Simply put, educators need to cast a critical eye on those forms of knowledge and social relations that define themselves through a conceptual purity and political innocence that not only clouds how they come into being, but also ignores that the alleged neutrality on which they stand is already grounded in ethico-political choices. Neutral, objective education is an oxymoron. It does not exist outside of relations of power, values and politics. Thomas Keenan rightly argues that ethics on the pedagogical front demands an openness to the other, a willingness to engage a “politics of possibility” through a continual critical engagement with texts, images events, and other registers of meaning as they are transformed into public pedagogies.[10] One consequence of linking pedagogy to the specificity of place is that it foregrounds the need for educators to rethink the cultural and political baggage they bring to each educational encounter; it also highlights the necessity of making educators ethically and politically accountable for the stories they produce, the claims they make upon public memory and the images of the future they deem legitimate. Pedagogy is never innocent, and if it is to be understood and problematized as a form of academic labor, educators must not only critically question and register their own subjective involvement in how and what they teach, they must also resist all calls to depoliticize pedagogy through appeals to either scientific objectivity or ideological dogmatism. Far from being disinterested or ideologically frozen, critical pedagogy is concerned about the articulation of knowledge to social effects and succeeds to the degree in which educators encourage critical reflection and moral and civic agency, rather than simply mold it. Crucial to the latter position is the necessity for critical educators to be attentive to the ethical dimensions of their own practice.

Critical Pedagogy and the Promise of Democratization

But as an act of intervention, critical pedagogy needs to be grounded in a project that not only problematizes its own location, mechanisms of transmission and effects, but also functions as part of a larger project to contest various forms of domination and to help students think more critically about how existing social, political and economic arrangements might be better suited to address the promise of a radical democracy as an anticipatory rather than messianic goal. The late Jacques Derrida suggested that the social function of intellectuals, as well as any viable notion of education, should be grounded in a vibrant politics which makes the promise of democracy a matter of concrete urgency. For Derrida, making visible a “democracy” which is to come, as opposed to that which presents itself in its name, provides a referent for both criticizing everywhere what parades as democracy – “the current state of all so-called democracy” – and for critically assessing the conditions and possibilities for democratic transformation.[11] Derrida sees the promise of democracy as the proper articulation of a political ethics and by implication suggests that when higher education is engaged and articulated through the project of democratic social transformation, it can function as a vital public sphere for critical learning, ethical deliberation and civic engagement. Moreover, the utopian dimension of pedagogy articulated through the project of radical democracy offers the possibility of resistance to the increasing depoliticization of the citizenry, provides a language to challenge the politics of accommodation that connects education to the logic of privatization, commodification, religious dogma, and instrumental knowledge. Such a pedagogy refuses to define the citizen as simply a consuming subject and actively opposes the view of teaching as market-driven practice and learning as a form of training. Utopianism in this sense is not an antidote to politics, a nostalgic yearning for a better time, or for some “inconceivably alternative future.” But, by contrast, it is an “attempt to find a bridge between the present and future in those forces within the present which are potentially able to transform it.”[12]

In opposition to dominant forms of education and pedagogy that simply reinvent the future in the interest of a present in which ethical principles are scorned and the essence of democracy is reduced to the imperatives of the bottom line, critical pedagogy must address the challenge of providing students with the competencies they need to cultivate the capacity for critical judgment, thoughtfully connect politics to social responsibility, and expand their own sense of agency in order to curb the excesses of dominant power, revitalize a sense of public commitment, and expand democratic relations. Animated by a sense of critique and possibility, critical pedagogy at its best attempts to provoke students to deliberate, resist and cultivate a range of capacities that enable them to move beyond the world they already know without insisting on a fixed set of meanings.

Against the current onslaught to privatize public schools and corporatize higher education, educators need to defend public and higher education as a resource vital to the democratic and civic life of the nation. Central to such a task is the challenge of academics, young people, the Occupy movement and labor unions to find ways to join together in broad-based social movements and oppose the transformation of the public schools and higher education into commercial spheres, to resist what Bill Readings has called a consumer-oriented corporation more concerned about accounting than accountability.[13] The crisis of public schooling and higher education – while having  different registers – needs to be analyzed in terms of wider configurations of economic, political and social forces that exacerbate tensions between those who value such institutions as public goods and those advocates of neoliberalism who see market culture as a master design for all human affairs. The threat corporate power poses can be seen in the ongoing attempts by neoliberals and other hypercapitalists to subject all forms of public life, including public and higher education, to the dictates of the market while simultaneously working to empty democracy itself of any vestige of ethical, political and social considerations. What educators must challenge is the attempt on the part of neoliberals to either define democracy exclusively as a liability, or to enervate its substantive ideals by reducing it to the imperatives and freedoms of the marketplace. This requires that educators consider the political and pedagogical importance of struggling over the meaning and definition of democracy and situate such a debate within an expansive notion of human rights, social provisions, civil liberties, equity and economic justice. What must be challenged at all costs is the increasingly dominant view, propagated by neoliberal gurus such as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, that selfishness is the supreme value in shaping human agency, profit-making is the most important practice in a democracy and accumulating material goods the essence of the good life.

Defending public and higher education as vital democratic spheres is necessary to develop and nourish the proper balance between public values and commercial power, between identities founded on democratic principles and identities steeped in forms of competitive, self-interested individualism that celebrate selfishness, profit-making and greed. Educators also must reconsider the critical roles they might take up within public and higher education so as to enable them to oppose those approaches to schooling that corporatize, privatize and bureaucratize the teaching process. A critical pedagogy should, in part, be premised on the assumption that educators vigorously resist any attempt on the part of liberals and conservatives to reduce their role in schools to either that of technicians or corporate pawns. Instead, educators might redefine their roles as engaged public intellectuals capable of teaching students the language of critique and possibility as a precondition for social agency. Such a redefinition of purpose, meaning and politics suggests that educators critically interrogate the fundamental link between knowledge and power, pedagogical practices and social consequences, and authority and civic responsibility. It also means eliminating those modes of corporate governance in the public schools and higher education that reduce teachers to the status of clerks, technicians, and, with respect to higher education, to a subaltern class of part-time workers, with little power, few benefits and excessive teaching loads.

By redefining the purpose and meaning of schooling as part of a broader attempt to struggle for a radical democratic social order, educators can begin to vigorously challenge a number of dominant assumptions and policies currently structuring public and higher education, including but not limited to: ongoing attempts by corporate culture to define educators as multinational operatives; escalating efforts by colleges and universities to deny students the loans, resources and public support they need to have access to a quality education; the mounting influence of corporate interests in pressuring universities to reward forms of scholarship that generate corporate profits; increasing attempts to deny women and students of color access to higher education through the reversal of affirmative action policies, the raising of tuition costs, and a growing emphasis on classroom pedagogies designed to create marketable products and active consumers. Rather than providing students with an opportunity to learn how to shape and govern public life, education is increasingly being vocationalized, reduced to a commodity that provides privileges for a few students  and low-skill industrial training for the rest, especially those who are marginalized by reason of their class and race. Republican Party presidential candidate Rick Santorum has recently argued that public education is a form of government intrusion and that higher education is simply irrelevant because it is doing the work of Satan by allowing leftist educators to indoctrinate students.[14] That such ideological and political idiocy passes as a legitimate discourse in a presidential race tells us something about the devalued state of public and higher education, not to mention how vulnerable it is to the most extreme authoritarian pressures and policies.

What has become clear in this current climate of religious fundamentalism and casino capitalism is that the corporatization of education functions so as to cancel out the democratic values,  impulses and practices of a civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market. Educators need a critical language to address these challenges to public and higher education. But they also need to join with other groups outside of the spheres of public and higher education in order to create a national movement that links the defense of noncommodified education with a broader struggle to deepen the imperatives of democratic public life. The quality of educational reform can, in part, be gauged by the caliber of public discourse concerning the role that education plays in furthering not the market-driven agenda of corporate interests, but the imperatives of critical agency, social justice and an operational democracy. In this capacity, educators need to develop a language of possibility for raising critical questions about the aim of schooling and about the purpose and meaning of what and how educators teach. In doing so, pedagogy draws attention to engaging classroom practice as a moral and political consideration animated by a fierce sense of commitment to expanding the range of individual capacities that enable students to become critical agents capable of linking knowledge, responsibility and democratic social transformation.

Approaching pedagogy as a critical and political practice suggests that educators refuse all attempts to reduce classroom teaching exclusively to matters of technique and method. In opposition to such approaches, educators can highlight the performative character of education as an act of intervention in the world – focusing on the work that pedagogy does as a deliberate attempt to influence how and what knowledge and experiences are produced within particular sets of classroom relations. Within this perspective, critical pedagogy foregrounds the diverse conditions under which authority, knowledge, values and subject positions are produced and interact within unequal relations of power; it also problematizes the ideologically laden and often contradictory roles and social functions that educators assume within the classroom. Pedagogy in this view can also be reclaimed as a form of academic labor that bridges the gap between individual considerations and public concerns, affirms bonds of sociality and reciprocity, and interrogates the relationship between individual freedom and privatized notions of the good life and the social obligations and collective structures necessary to support a vibrant democracy.

Classroom Authority and Pedagogy as the Outcome of Struggles

The question of what educators teach is inseparable from what it means to locate oneself in public discourses and invest in public commitments. Implicit in this argument is the assumption that the responsibility of critical educators cannot be separated from the consequences of the subject positions they have been assigned, the knowledge they produce, the social relations they legitimate and the ideologies they disseminate to students. Educational work at its best represents a response to questions and issues posed by the tensions and contradictions of the broader society; it is an attempt to understand and intervene in specific problems that emanate from those sites that people concretely inhabit and actually live out in their lives and everyday existence. Teaching in this sense becomes performative and contextual, and it highlights considerations of power, politics and ethics fundamental to any form of teacher-student-text interaction.

It is crucial to reiterate that any pedagogy that is alive to its own democratic implications is always cautious of its need to resist totalizing certainties and answers. Refusing the pull of dogmatism, ideological purity and imperious authority, educators must at the same time grasp the complexity and contradictions that inform the conditions under which they produce and disseminate knowledge. Recognizing that pedagogy is the outgrowth of struggles that are historically specific, as are the problems that govern the questions and issues that guide what and how we teach, should not suggest that educators renounce their authority. On the contrary, it is precisely by recognizing that teaching is always an act of intervention inextricably mediated through particular forms of authority that teachers can offer students a variety of analytic tools, diverse historical traditions, and a wide-ranging knowledge of dominant and subaltern cultures and how they influence each other – for whatever use students wish to make of these tools and knowledge.  This is a far cry from suggesting that critical pedagogy define itself either within the grip of a self-righteous mode of authority or completely remove itself from any sense of commitment whatsoever. On the contrary, at stake here is the need to insist on modes of authority that are directive but not imperious, linking knowledge to power in the service of self-production, and encouraging students to go beyond the world they already know to expand their range of human possibilities.

Academics must deliberate, make decisions, and take positions, and, in doing so, recognize that authority “is the very condition for intellectual work” and pedagogical interventions.[15] Authority in this perspective in not simply on the side of oppression, but is used to intervene and shape the space of teaching and learning to provide students with a range of possibilities for challenging a society’s commonsense assumptions, and for analyzing the interface between its members’ own everyday lives and those broader social formations that bear down on them. Authority, at best, becomes both a referent for legitimating a commitment to a particular vision of pedagogy and a critical referent for a kind of auto-critique. It demands consideration of how authority functions within specific relations of power regarding its own promise to provide students with a public space where they can learn, debate and engage critical traditions in order to imagine otherwise and develop discourses that are crucial  for defending vital social institutions as a public good.

While pedagogy can be understood performatively as an event where many things can happen in the service of learning, it is crucial to stress the importance of democratic classroom relations that encourage dialogue, deliberation and the power of students to raise questions. Moreover, such relations don’t signal a retreat from teacher authority as much as they suggest using authority reflexively to provide the conditions for students to exercise intellectual rigor, theoretical competence and informed judgments. Thus, students can think critically about the knowledge they gain and what it means to act on such knowledge in order to expand their sense of agency as part of a broader project of increasing both “the scope of their freedoms” and “the operations of democracy.”[16] What students learn and how they learn should amplify what it means to experience democracy from a position of possibility, affirmation and critical engagement. In part, this suggests that educators develop pedagogical practices that open up the terrain of the political while simultaneously encouraging students to “think better about how arrangements might be otherwise.”[17]

At its best, critical pedagogy must be interdisciplinary,  contextual, engage the complex relationships between power and knowledge, critically address the institutional constraints under which teaching takes place, and focus on how students can engage the imperatives of critical social citizenship. Education is not simply about the transmission of knowledge; it is about the producing of subjects, identities and desires – no small matter when recognizing what such a struggle suggests about preparing students for the future. Once again, critical pedagogy must be self-reflexive about its aims and practices, conscious of its ongoing project of democratic transformation, but openly committed to a politics that does not offer any guarantees. But refusing dogmatism does not suggest that educators descend into a laissez-faire pluralism or an appeal to methodologies designed to “teach the conflicts.” On the contrary, it suggests that, in order to make the pedagogical more political, educators afford students with diverse opportunities to understand and experience how politics, power, commitment and responsibility work on and through them both within and outside of schools. This, in turn, enables students to locate themselves, within an interrelated confluence of ideological and material forces, as critical agents who can both influence such forces and simultaneously be held responsible for their own views and actions. Within this perspective, relations between institutional forms and pedagogical practices are acknowledged as complex, open and contradictory – though always situated within unequal relations of power.[18]

To read more article by Henry A. Giroux and other writers in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Making the Pedagogical More Meaningful

Any analysis of critical pedagogy must stress the importance of addressing the role that affect and emotion play in the formation of individual identity and social agency. Any viable approach to critical pedagogy suggests taking seriously those maps of meaning, affective investments and sedimented desires that enable students to connect their own lives and everyday experiences to what they learn. Pedagogy in this sense becomes more than a mere transfer of received knowledge, an inscription of a unified and static identity, or a rigid methodology; it presupposes that students are moved by their passions and motivated, in part, by the affective investments they bring to the learning process. This suggests, as Paulo Freire points out, the need for a theory of pedagogy willing to develop a “critical comprehension of the value of sentiments, emotions, and desire as part of the learning process.”[19] Not only do students need to understand the ideological, economic and political interests that shape the nature of their educational experiences, they must also address the strong emotional investments they may bring to such beliefs. For Emory University professor Shoshana Felman, this suggests that educators take seriously the role of desire in both ignorance and learning. “Teaching,” she explains, “has to deal not so much with lack of knowledge as with resistances to knowledge. Ignorance, suggests Jacques Lacan, is a ‘passion.’ Inasmuch as traditional pedagogy postulated a desire for knowledge, an analytically informed pedagogy has to reckon with the passion for ignorance.”[20] Felman elaborates further on the productive nature of ignorance, arguing. “Ignorance is nothing other than a desire to ignore: its nature is less cognitive than performative … it is not a simple lack of information but the incapacity – or the refusal – to acknowledge one’s own implication in the information.”[21] If students are to move beyond the issue of understanding to an engagement with the deeper affective investments that make them complicitous with oppressive ideologies, they must be positioned to address and formulate strategies of transformation through which their individualized beliefs and affective investments can be articulated with broader public discourses that extend the imperatives of democratic public life. An unsettling pedagogy in this instance would engage student identities and resistances from unexpected vantage points and articulate how they connect to existing material relations of power. At stake here is not only a pedagogical practice that recalls how knowledge, identifications, and subject positions are produced, unfolded and remembered, but also how they become part of an ongoing process, more strategic, so to speak, of mediating and challenging existing relations of power.

Conclusion

In the current historical conjuncture, the concept of the social and the common good is being refigured and displaced as a constitutive category for making democracy operational and political agency the condition for social transformation. The notions of the social and the public are not being erased as much as they are being reconstructed under circumstances in which public forums for serious debate, including public education, are being eroded. Within the ongoing logic of neoliberalism, teaching and learning are removed from the discourse of democracy and civic culture – defined as a purely private affair. How else to explain Rick Santorum’s rants against higher education, the elites, and that old phantom, the liberal media.   Divorced from the imperatives of a democratic society, pedagogy is reduced to a matter of taste, individual choice, home schooling and job training. Pedagogy as a mode of witnessing, a public engagement in which students learn to be attentive and responsible to the memories and narratives of others, disappears within a corporate-driven notion of learning in which the logic of market devalues the opportunity for students to make connections with others through social relations which foster a mix of compassion, ethics and hope. The crisis of the social is further amplified by the withdrawal of the state as a guardian of the public trust and its growing lack of investment in those sectors of social life that promote the public good. With the Supreme Court ruling that now makes vouchers constitutional, a deeply conservative government once again will be given full reign to renege on the responsibility of government to provide every child with an education that affirms public life, embraces the need for critical citizens and supports the truism that political agency is central to the possibility of democratic life.

The greatest threat to our children does not come from lowered standards, the absence of privatized choice schemes or the lack of rigid testing measures. On the contrary, it comes from a society that refuses to view children as a social investment, that consigns 16.3 million children to live in poverty, reduces critical learning to massive testing programs, promotes policies that eliminate most crucial health and public services, and defines masculinity through the degrading celebration of a gun culture, extreme sports and the spectacles of violence that permeate corporate-controlled media industries. Students are not at risk because of the absence of market incentives in the schools; they are at risk because, as a country, we support an iniquitous class-based system of funding education and, more recently, are intent on completely destroying it precisely because it is public. Children and young adults are under siege in both public and higher education because far too many of these institutions have become breeding grounds for commercialism, racism, social intolerance, sexism, homophobia and consumerism, spurred on by the right-wing discourse of the Republican Party, corporations, conservative think tanks and a weak mainstream media. We live in a society in which a culture of punishment and intolerance has replaced a culture of social responsibility and compassion. Within such a climate of harsh discipline and disdain, it is easier for states such as California to set aside more financial resources to build prisons that to support higher education. Within this context, the project(s) of critical pedagogy need to be taken up both within and outside of public and higher education. Pedagogy is not a practice that only takes place in schools; it is also a public mode of teaching, that is, a public pedagogical practice largely defined within a range of cultural apparatuses extending from television networks to print media to the Internet. As a central element of a broad-based cultural politics, critical pedagogy, in its various forms, when linked to the ongoing project of democratization, can provide opportunities for educators and other cultural workers to redefine and transform the connections among language, desire, meaning, everyday life, and material relations of power as part of a broader social movement to reclaim the promise and possibilities of a democratic public life. Pedagogy is dangerous not only because it provides the intellectual capacities and ethical norms for students to fight against poverty, ecological destruction and the dismantling of the social state, but also because it holds the potential for instilling in students a profound desire for a “real democracy based on relationships of equality and freedom.”[22] Given the current economic crisis, the growing authoritarian populism, the rise of religious dogmatism, the emergence of a failed state, and a politics largely controlled by the bankers and corporations, critical pedagogy becomes symptomatic of not only something precious that has been lost under a regime of casino capitalism, but also of a project and practice that needs to be reclaimed, reconfigured and made foundational to any viable notion of politics.

 

Endnotes
1. Stanley Aronowitz, “Introduction,” in Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), p. 7
2.   For an excellent analysis of contemporary forms of neoliberalism, see Stuart Hall, “The Neo-Liberal Revolution,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 25, No. 6, (November 2011, pp. 705-728; see also David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism” (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).
3. Roger Simon, “Empowerment as a Pedagogy of Possibility,” Language Arts 64:4 (April 1987), p. 372.
4. Cornelius Castoriadis, “Institutions and Autonomy.” In Peter Osborne(Ed). “A Critical Sense” (New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 8.
5.  Rachel Donadio, “The Failing State of Greece,” New York Times (February 26, 2012), p. 8.
6.  John Brenkman, “Extreme Criticism,” in Judith Butler, John Guillary, and Kendal Thomas, eds. “What’s Left of Theory” (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 123.
7. Henry A. Giroux, “Public Spaces, Private Lives: Democracy Beyond 9/11″ (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003).
8. Jeffrey Williams, “Brave New University,” College English 61:6 (1999), p. 749.
9. Paul Gilroy, “Against Race” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 69.
10. For a brilliant discussion of the ethics and politics of deconstruction, see Thomas Keenan, “Fables of Responsibility: Aberrations and Predicaments in Ethics and Politics” (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 2.
11. Jacques Derrida, “Intellectual Courage: An Interview,” Trans. Peter Krapp, “Culture Machine” Vol. 2 (2000), p. 9.
12. Terry Eagleton, “The Idea of Culture” (Malden, MA: Basil Blackwell, 2000), p.22.
13. Bill Readings, “The University in Ruins” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,     pp, 11, 18.
14.  Scott Jaschik, “Santorum’s Attack on Higher Education,” Inside Higher Education (February 27, 2012).
15. This expression comes from John Michael, “Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values” (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 2.
16.  Cornel West, “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” in Russell Fergusen, Martha Geever, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Cornel West, eds. “Out There” (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), p. 35.
17. Jodi Dean, “The interface of Political Theory and Cultural Studies,” in Jodi Dean, ed. “Cultural Studies and Political Theory” (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000), p. 3.
18. Alan O’Shea, “A Special Relationship? Cultural Studies, Academia and Pedagogy,” Cultural Studies 12(4) 1998, pp. 513-527.
19. Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of Freedom” (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), p. 48.
20. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79. For an extensive analysis of the relationship between schooling, literacy, and desire, see Ursula A. Kelly, “Schooling Desire: Literacy, Cultural Politics, and Pedagogy” (New York: Routledge, 1997); Sharon Todd, “Learning Desire: Perspectives on Pedagogy, Culture, and the Unsaid,” (New York: Routledge, 1997).
21. Shoshana Felman, “Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 79.
22. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire,” (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004),  p. 67

Obama To Authorize Indefinite Detention Of U.S. Citizens For First Time Since McCarthy Era

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Oldspeak: “‘President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law’ -Human Rights Watch. President Obama has just stated a policy that he can have any American citizen killed without any charge, without any review, except his own. If he’s satisfied that you are a terrorist, he says that he can kill you anywhere in the world including in the United States. Two of his aides just reaffirmed they believe that American citizens can be killed on the order of the President anywhere including the United States. You’ve now got a president who says that he can kill you on his own discretion. He can jail you indefinitely on his own discretion.” -Jonathan Turley, Law Professor, George Washington University The Police State has been officially codified. You can be indefinitely detained or even killed at the whim of the President.  We are living in the age of the Unitary Executive. Not surprising given President Obama’s consistent support for indefinite detention. Never mind that Candidate Obama vehemently opposed it and condemned it as a “black hole” of injustice.  ” The treatment of Bradley Manning provides a glimpse into the future of how citizens who dare reveal truth and disrupt the status quo will be treated. More change I can’t believe in. “Freedom Is Slavery”

Related stories

By Glen Greenwald @ Salon:

In one of the least surprising developments imaginable, President Obama – after spending months threatening to veto the Levin/McCain detention bill – yesterday announced that he would instead sign it into law (this is the same individual, of course, who unequivocally vowed when seeking the Democratic nomination to support a filibuster of “any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecom[s],” only to turn around – once he had the nomination secure — and not only vote against such a filibuster, but to vote in favor of the underlying bill itself, so this is perfectly consistent with his past conduct). As a result, the final version of the Levin/McCain bill will be enshrined as law this week as part of the the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I wrote about the primary provisions and implications of this bill last week, and won’t repeat those points here.

The ACLU said last night that the bill contains “harmful provisions that some legislators have said could authorize the U.S. military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians, including American citizens, anywhere in the world”and added: “if President Obama signs this bill, it will damage his legacy.” Human Rights Watch said that Obama’s decision “does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad” and that “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.”

Both groups pointed out that this is the first time indefinite detention has been enshrined in law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s, when — as the ACLU put it — “President Truman had the courage to veto” the Internal Security Act of 1950 on the ground that it “would make a mockery of our Bill of Rights” and then watched Congress override the veto. That Act authorized the imprisonment of Communists and other “subversives” without the necessity of full trials or due process (many of the most egregious provisions of that bill were repealed by the 1971 Non-Detention Act, and are now being rejuvenated by these War on Terror policies of indefinite detention). President Obama, needless to say, is not Harry Truman. He’s not even the Candidate Obama of 2008 who repeatedly insisted that due process and security were not mutually exclusive and who condemned indefinite detention as “black hole” injustice.

There have been several persistent myths circulating about this bill and President Obama’s position on it that need to be clarified once and for all:

First, while the powers this bill enshrines are indeed radical and dangerous, most of them already exist. That’s because first the Bush administration and now the Obama administration have aggressively argued that the original 2001 AUMF already empowers them to imprison people without charges, use force against even U.S. citizens without due process (Anwar Awlaki), and target not only members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban (as the law states) but also anyone who “substantially supports” those groups and/or “associated forces” (whatever those terms mean). That’s why this bill states that it does not intend to change the 2001 AUMF (even as it codifies far broader language defining the scope of the war) or the detention powers of the President, and it’s why they purposely made the bill vague on whether it expressly authorizes military detention of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil: it’s because the bill’s proponents and the White House both believe that the President already possesses these broadened powers with or without this bill. With a couple of exceptions, this bill just “clarifies” — and codifies — the powers President Obama has already claimed, seized and exercised.

I’m embedding the video below of the segment I did last night on Cenk Uygur’s TV program where I elaborated on this point: this is not to mitigate how heinous this bill is, as there are real dangers to codifying these powers in law with bipartisan Congressional support as opposed to having the President unilaterally seize them and have some lower courts recognize them. Instead, it’s a reflection of how horrible the civil liberties status quo has become under the Bush and Obama administrations. This is the reason why civil libertarians have been so harshly critical of this President. It’s the reason civil liberties groups have been saying things like this even when saying them was so unpopular: it’s because Obama has, for three years now, been defending and entrenching exactly the detention powers this law vests, but doing it through radical legal theories, warped interpretations of the 2001 AUMF, continuities with the Bush/Cheney template, and devotion to Endless War and the civil liberties assaults it entails. See the newspaper excerpts below for more proof of this.

Second, as I documented at length last week, Obama’s veto threat was never about substantive objections to the detention powers vested by this bill; put another way, he was never objecting to the bill on civil liberties grounds. Obama, as I documented last week and again below, is not an opponent of indefinite detention; he’s a vigorous proponent of it, as evidenced by his continuous, multi-faceted embrace of that policy.

Obama’s objections to this bill had nothing to do with civil liberties, due process or the Constitution. It had everything to do with Executive powerThe White House’s complaint was that Congress had no business tying the hands of the President when deciding who should go into military detention, who should be denied a trial, which agencies should interrogate suspects (the FBI or the CIA). Such decisions, insisted the White Houseare for the President, not Congress, to makeIn other words, his veto threat was not grounded in the premise that indefinite military detention is wrong; it was grounded in the premise that it should be the President who decides who goes into military detention and why, not Congress.

Even the one substantive objection the White House expressed to the bill — mandatory military detention for accused American Terrorists captured on U.S. soil — was about Executive power, not due process or core liberties. The proof of that — the definitive, conclusive proof — is that Sen. Carl Levin has several times disclosed that it was the White House which demanded removal of a provision in his original draft that would have exempted U.S. citizens from military detention (see the clip of Levin explaining this in the video below). In other words, this was an example of the White Housedemanding greater detention powers in the bill by insisting on the removal of one of its few constraints (the prohibition on military detention for Americans captured on U.S. soil). That’s because the White House’s North Star on this bill —  as they repeatedly made clear — was Presidential discretion: they were going to veto the bill if it contained any limits on the President’s detention powers, regardless of whether those limits forced him to put people in military prison or barred him from doing so.

Any doubt that this was the White House’s only concern with the bill is now dispelled by virtue of the President’s willingness to sign it after certain changes were made in Conference between the House and Senate. Those changes were almost entirely about removing the parts of the bill that constrained his power, and had nothing to do with improving the bill from a civil liberties perspective. Once the sole concern of the White House was addressed — eliminating limits on the President’s power — they were happy to sign the bill even though (rather: because) none of the civil liberties assaults were fixed. As Mother Jones‘ Adam Serwer explained:

This morning I wrote that by making the mandatory military detention provisions mandatory in name only, the Senate had offered the administration an opportunity tosee how seriously it takes its own rhetoric on civil liberties. The administration had said that the military detention provisions of an earlier version of the NDAA were “inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”

The revised NDAA is still inconsistent with that fundamental American principle. But the administration has decided that fundamental American principles aren’t actually worth vetoing the bill over. 

That’s because, as Serwer explained in a separate post, Congress — in response to the veto threat — made changes “addressing the security concerns, but not the ones related to civil liberties and the rule of law” (by “security concerns,” the White House means: don’t restrict what the President can do). That the White House cared only about the former (presidential discretion), and not at all about the letter (civil liberties), is proven by its willingness to sign the bill when only objections to the former have been addressed. For more proof on this point — and the perfect encapsulation of it — see this comment here.

Third, the most persistent and propagandistic set of myths about President Obama on detention issues is that he tried to end indefinite detention by closing Guantanamo, but was blocked by Congress from doing so. It is true that Congress blocked the closing of Guantanamo, and again in this bill, Congress is imposing virtually insurmountable restrictions on the transfer of detainees out of that camp, including for detainees who have long ago been cleared for release (restrictions that Obama is now going to sign into law). But — and this is not a hard point to understand — while Obama intended to close Guantanamo, he always planned — long before Congress acted — to preserve Guantanamo’s core injustice: indefinite detention.

I need to say that again: long before, and fully independent of, anything Congress did, President Obama made clear that he was going to preserve the indefinite detention system at Guantanamo even once he closed the camp. That’s what makes the apologias over Obama and GITMO so misleading: the controversy over Guantanamo was not that about its locale — that it was based in the Caribbean Sea — so that simply closing it and then  re-locating it to a different venue would address the problem. The controversy over Guantanamo was that it was a prison camp where people were put in cages indefinitely, for decades or life, without being charged with any crime. And that policy is one that President Obama whole-heartedly embraced from the start.

Totally prior to and independent of anything Congress did, President Obama fully embraced indefinite detention as his own policy. He is a proponent — not an opponent — of indefinite detention. Just review the facts — the indisputable facts — if you have any doubt about that or if you know anyone who does:

New York Times, May 23, 2009:

New York Times, January 22, 2010:

New York Times, February 21, 2009:

ACLU, December 15, 2009:

This is why even some progressive Senators such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders ultimately voted to deny funding to the closing of Guantanamo: not because they favored GITMO, but because they wanted first to see Obama’s plan for what would replace it, because they did not want to allocate funds to a plan that would simply re-locate GITMO and its defining injustice — indefinite detention — onto U.S. soil.

Can any rational person review these events and try to claim that Obama is some sort of opponent of indefinite detention? He is one of American history’s most aggressive defenders of that power. As Human Rights Watch put it: “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.” There is no partisan loyalty or leader-reverent propaganda strong enough to obscure that fact.

* * * * *

Thank you very much to everyone who participated in last week’s blog fund-raiser. As much as the donations themselves, the expressions of reader support are truly gratifying, and galvanizing. It is much appreciated. I will be sending out thank you emails over the next few weeks but wanted to thank everyone here who contributed.

* * * * *

I have an Op-Ed in the print edition of The Guardian today on Bradley Manning, who — after 17 months of harsh imprisonment — will finally see the inside of a courtroom when the preliminary stage of his military trial commences tomorrow; that Op-Ed can be read here.

* * * * *

Here is the segment I did last night with Cenk Uygur on his new Current TV program; he started off the segment with quite a rant (understandably so), so our discussion begins at roughly the 7:00 mark, though the video of Sen. Levin explaining the White House’s demands for domestic detention power is at roughly the 2:30 mark.

UPDATE: On the three myths being spread about this bill by defenders of the bill and/or the President: see here.


The Informants: How The FBI’s Massive Informant Network Actually Created Most Terrorist Plots “Foiled” In U.S. Since 9/11

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Oldspeak:“So this is the America we live in today. Law enforcement spying on citizens without warrants or probable cause. Law enforcement using paid informants to identify and cultivate “targets”; usually poor, simpletons, desperate for money, mostly muslim. Encourage them to commit terrorist acts. HELP THEM PLAN AND GIVE THEM THE MATERIALS to carry out the attack. Then at the last possible instant arresting them for doing so. AND using those same paid informants unsubstantiated testimony (who get a performance bonus every time) to help prosecute and convict the men they coerced into performing terrorist acts. “With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. (The exceptions are Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing [26] the New York City subway system in September 2009; Hesham Mohamed Hadayet [27], an Egyptian who opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport; and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad [28].” What we have here is Federal Law Enforcement, under a democratic president, CREATING CRIMES. Why? You ask? Law Enforcement is business. It’s a vital cog in the prison-industrial complex. Without crime, budgets can’t be justified. Smaller budgets mean less inmates, less inmates means less slave laborers available, to make low-cost goods. But I digress. The farcical “War On Terror” must have its ‘Emmanuel Goldstein‘, today, in America, it’s “Muslim Extremists”. There must be paradeable, widely reported and commented on ‘defeats’ of  the ‘extremists’ to justify the existence of the gargantuan ‘National Security/Surveillance State‘ No one really knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it. Good news for the  Military Industrial Complex; it’s selling surveillance  technology to state and local law enforcement to monitor thousands of average Americans, who 9 times out of 10 have not been accused of wrongdoing.

This is the America we live in today. A highly sophisticated, stealth totalitarian state, where the range of acceptable thought and behavior are dictated by a few powerful men and that range is getting narrower and more polarized every day. These few men assiduously and insidiously, tell you what to think, say, learn and  know In the schools they finance and control. What to love, ignore and hate, via multivariate and impossibly seductive and addictive marketing, entertainment, social networking  and infotainment platforms. What to wear, how to smell, where to go, what’s cool what’s not…. etc. All the while telling you you’re an individual, you’re the master of your fate, you’re free to choose whatever you like.  Neo-totalitarianism isn’t something you fear, it’s something you adore. Unless of course you step out of line. The  beauty of neo-totalitarianism is it’s self-correcting. “Extremists” are treated with skepticism, suspicion, derision, or just flat-out ignored, if the point of view espoused doesn’t fit into a prescribed range of thought that supports the status quo. Citizens do it all the time. When they hear things that don’t jive with the corporate approved narrative they’re bombarded with every day, their first reaction is not to explore it further and determine it’s veracity on their own. They’re more likely to dismiss it as “crazy” or a “conspiracy theory” or some “leftie” “righty” propaganda. Our ability to think critically and independently is constantly being eroded on both an institutional and social level. The sound-bytetification  and atomization of our society pervasive, making it that much more difficult for us to organize, resist, and dissent.” “Freedom Is Slavery”

Related Stories:

FBI Counterterrorism Operations Scrutinizing Political Activists 

FBI To Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge Of Its Spy Campaign Targeting American Activists 

Deserving Neither Liberty Nor Safety: The Patriot Act & The FBI’s Long-Term Assault on Civil Liberties In America 

By Trevor Aaronson @ Mother Jones:

The FBI has built a massive network of spies to prevent another domestic attack. But are they busting terrorist plots—or leading them?

UPDATE: On September 28, Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old graduate of Northeastern University, was arrested and charged with providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to destroy national defense premises. Ferdaus, according to the FBI, planned to blow up both the Pentagon and Capitol Building with a “large remote-controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives.”

The case was part of a nearly ten-month investigation led by the FBI. Not surprisingly, Ferdaus’ case fits a pattern detailed by Trevor Aaronson in his article below: the FBI provided Ferdaus with the explosives and materials needed to pull off the plot. In this case, two undercover FBI employees, who Ferdaus believed were al Qaeda members, gave Ferdaus $7,500 to purchase an F-86 Sabre model airplane that Ferdaus hoped to fill with explosives. Right before his arrest, the FBI employees gave Ferdaus, who lived at home with his parents, the explosives he requested to pull off his attack. And just how did the FBI come to meet Ferdaus? An informant with a criminal record introduced Ferdaus to the supposed al Qaeda members.

To learn more about how the FBI uses informants to bust, and sometimes lead, terrorist plots, read Aaronson’s article below.

James Cromitie [8] was a man of bluster and bigotry. He made up wild stories about his supposed exploits, like the one about firing gas bombs into police precincts using a flare gun, and he ranted about Jews. “The worst brother in the whole Islamic world is better than 10 billion Yahudi,” he once said [9].

A 45-year-old Walmart stocker who’d adopted the name Abdul Rahman after converting to Islam during a prison stint for selling cocaine, Cromitie had lots of worries—convincing his wife he wasn’t sleeping around, keeping up with the rent, finding a decent job despite his felony record. But he dreamed of making his mark. He confided as much in a middle-aged Pakistani he knew as Maqsood.

“I’m gonna run into something real big [10],” he’d say. “I just feel it, I’m telling you. I feel it.”

Maqsood and Cromitie had met at a mosque in Newburgh, a struggling former Air Force town about an hour north of New York City. They struck up a friendship, talking for hours about the world’s problems and how the Jews were to blame.

It was all talk until November 2008, when Maqsood pressed his new friend.

“Do you think you are a better recruiter or a better action man?” Maqsood asked [11].

“I’m both,” Cromitie bragged.

“My people would be very happy to know that, brother. Honestly.”

“Who’s your people?” Cromitie asked.

“Jaish-e-Mohammad.”

CRUNCH THE NUMBERS

We analyzed the prosecutions of 508 alleged domestic terrorists. View them by affiliation or state, or play with the full data set.

     <All States>     Alabama     Alaska     Arizona     Arkansas     California     Colorado     Connecticut     Delaware     District of Columbia     Florida     Georgia     Illinois     Indiana     Iowa     Kentucky     Louisiana     Maine     Maryland     Massachusetts     Michigan     Minnesota     Mississippi     Missouri     Montana     New Jersey     New York     North Carolina     Ohio     Oklahoma     Oregon     Pennsylvania     South Carolina     Tennessee     Texas     Virginia     Washington     Wisconsin      
     <All Affiliations>     Abu Sayyaf     Al Qaeda     Al Shabaab     Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades     Al-Barakat     Al-Fuqra     Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation     Al-Ittihad Al-Islami     Alleged affiliation     Ansar al-Islam     Free Government of Vietnam     Hamas     Hezbollah     Iraqi insurgency     Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh     Jemaah Islamiyah     Khalistan Commando Force (KCF)     Lashkar-e-Taiba     Mujahideen-e-Khalq     Palestinian Islamic Jihad     FARC     Taliban     Tamil Tigers     Terrorist training camps in AfPak     AUC      

Maqsood said he was an agent for the Pakistani terror group, tasked with assembling a team to wage jihad in the United States. He asked Cromitie what he would attack if he had the means. A bridge, Cromitie said.

“But bridges are too hard to be hit,” Maqsood pleaded, “because they’re made of steel.”

“Of course they’re made of steel,” Cromitie replied. “But the same way they can be put up, they can be brought down.”

Maqsood coaxed Cromitie toward a more realistic plan. The Mumbai attacks were all over the news, and he pointed out how those gunmen targeted hotels, cafés, and a Jewish community center.

“With your intelligence, I know you can manipulate someone,” Cromitie told his friend. “But not me, because I’m intelligent.” The pair settled on a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx, and then fire Stinger missiles at airplanes taking off from Stewart International Airport in the southern Hudson Valley. Maqsood would provide all the explosives and weapons, even the vehicles. “We have two missiles, okay?” he offered [12]. “Two Stingers, rocket missiles.”

Maqsood was an undercover operative; that much was true. But not for Jaish-e-Mohammad. His real name was Shahed Hussain [13], and he was a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies, some paid as much as $100,000 per case, many of them tasked with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States.

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO [14], the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informant [15]s [15]. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800 [16]. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported [16] in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request [17], the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase [18] in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million [19] for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

The bureau’s strategy has changed significantly from the days when officials feared another coordinated, internationally financed attack from an Al Qaeda sleeper cell. Today, counterterrorism experts believe groups like Al Qaeda, battered by the war in Afghanistan and the efforts of the global intelligence community, have shifted to a franchise model, using the internet to encourage sympathizers to carry out attacks in their name. The main domestic threat, as the FBI sees it, is a lone wolf.

The bureau’s answer has been a strategy known variously as “preemption,” “prevention,” and “disruption”—identifying and neutralizing potential lone wolves before they move toward action. To that end, FBI agents and informants target not just active jihadists, but tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.

Here’s how it works: Informants report to their handlers on people who have, say, made statements sympathizing with terrorists. Those names are then cross-referenced with existing intelligence data, such as immigration and criminal records. FBI agents may then assign an undercover operative to approach the target by posing as a radical. Sometimes the operative will propose a plot, provide explosives, even lead the target in a fake oath to Al Qaeda. Once enough incriminating information has been gathered, there’s an arrest—and a press conference [20] announcing another foiled plot.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because such sting operations are a fixture in the headlines. Remember the Washington Metro [21] bombing plot? The New York subway [22]plot? The guys who planned to blow up the Sears Tower [23]? The teenager seeking to bomb a Portland Christmas tree [24] lighting? Each of those plots, and dozens more across the nation, was led by an FBI asset.

Over the past year, Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley have examined prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases, as defined by the Department of Justice. Our investigation found:

  • Nearly half the prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money (operatives can be paid as much as $100,000 per assignment) or the need to work off criminal or immigration violations. (For more on the details of those 508 cases, see our charts page [6] and searchable database [25].)
  • Sting operations resulted in prosecutions against 158 defendants. Of that total, 49 defendants participated in plots led by an agent provocateur—an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.
  • With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings. (The exceptions are Najibullah Zazi, who came close to bombing [26] the New York City subway system in September 2009; Hesham Mohamed Hadayet [27], an Egyptian who opened fire on the El-Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport; and failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad [28].)
  • In many sting cases, key encounters between the informant and the target were not recorded—making it hard for defendants claiming entrapment to prove their case.
  • Terrorism-related charges are so difficult to beat in court, even when the evidence is thin, that defendants often don’t risk a trial.

“The problem with the cases we’re talking about is that defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents,” says Martin Stolar, a lawyer who represented a man caught in a 2004 sting involving New York’s Herald Square [22] subway station. “They’re creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror.” In the FBI’s defense, supporters argue that the bureau will only pursue a case when the target clearly is willing to participate in violent action. “If you’re doing a sting right, you’re offering the target multiple chances to back out,” says Peter Ahearn, a retired FBI special agent who directed the Western New York Joint Terrorism Task Force and oversaw the investigation of the Lackawanna Six [29], an alleged terror cell near Buffalo, New York. “Real people don’t say, ‘Yeah, let’s go bomb that place.’ Real people call the cops.”

A guide to counterterrorism jargon.

1001: Known as the “Al Capone,” Title 18, Section 1001 [30] of the federal criminal code covers the crime of lying to federal agents. Just as the government prosecuted Capone for tax violations[31], it has frequently used 1001 against terrorism defendants [32] whose crimes or affiliations it couldn’t prove in court.
Agent provocateur: An informant or undercover operative who incites a target to take unlawful action [33]; the phrase originally described strikebreakers trying to provoke violence [34].

Assessment: The term for a 72-hour investigation [35]—which may include surveillance—that FBI agents can launch without having a predicate [36] (see below).

COINTELPRO [14]: From 1956 to 1971, the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program attempted to infiltrate and sometimes harass domestic political groups [37], from the Ku Klux Klan to the National Lawyers Guild and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference [38].

DIOG: The Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide [36], a 258-page FBI manual for undercover operations and the use of informants. Recently revised to allow agents to look for information—including going through someone’s trash—about a person who is not formally being investigated [39], sometimes to flip them as an informant.

Domain Management: An FBI data-mining and analysis program [36] used to map US communities along ethnic and religious lines.

Hip pocket: An unregistered informant who provides information [40] and tips to FBI agents but whose information is not used in court.

Joint Terrorism Task Force: A partnership among federal and local law enforcement agencies [41]; through it, for example, FBI agents can join forces with immigration agents [42] to put the squeeze on someone to become an informant.

Material support: Providing help to a designated foreign terrorist organization. This can include money, lodging, training, documents, weapons, and personnel[43]—including oneself, and including joining a terrorist cell dreamed up by the FBI [44].

Operator: Someone who wants to be a terrorist; in the FBI’s view, sympathizers become operators [3].

Predicate: Information clearly suggesting that an individual is involved in unlawful activity; it’s required for the FBI to start an investigation [36].

Even so, Ahearn concedes that the uptick in successful terrorism stings might not be evidence of a growing threat so much as a greater focus by the FBI. “If you concentrate more people on a problem,” Ahearn says, “you’ll find more problems.” Today, the FBI follows up on literally every single call, email, or other terrorism-related tip it receives for fear of missing a clue.

And the emphasis is unlikely to shift anytime soon. Sting operations have “proven to be an essential law enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a December 2010 speech [45] to Muslim lawyers and civil rights activists. President Obama’s Department of Justice has announced sting-related prosecutions at an even faster clip than the Bush administration, with 44 new cases since January 2009. With the war on terror an open-ended and nebulous conflict, the FBI doesn’t have an exit strategy.

Located deep in a wooded area on a Marine Corps base west of Interstate 95—a setting familiar from Silence of the Lambs—is the sandstone fortress of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This building, erected under J. Edgar Hoover, is where to this day every FBI special agent is trained.

J. Stephen Tidwell graduated from the academy in 1981 and over the years rose to executive assistant director, one of the 10 highest positions in the FBI; in 2008, he coauthored the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, or DIOG [46] (PDF), the manual for what agents and informants can and cannot do.

A former Texas cop, Tidwell is a barrel-chested man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. He’s led some of the FBI’s highest-profile investigations, including the DC sniper case and the probe of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

On a cloudy spring afternoon, Tidwell, dressed in khakis and a blue sweater, drove me in his black Ford F-350 through Hogan’s Alley [47]—a 10-acre Potemkin village with houses, bars, stores, and a hotel. Agents learning the craft role-play stings, busts, and bank robberies here, and inside jokes and pop-culture references litter the place (which itself gets its name from a 19th-century comic strip). At one end of the town is the Biograph Theater, named for the Chicago movie house where FBI agents gunned down John Dillinger [48] in 1934. (“See,” Tidwell says. “The FBI has a sense of humor.”)

Inside the academy, a more somber tone prevails. Plaques everywhere honor agents who have been killed on the job. Tidwell takes me to one that commemorates John O’Neill, who became chief of the bureau’s then-tiny counterterrorism section in 1995. For years before retiring from the FBI, O’Neill warned [49] of Al Qaeda’s increasing threat, to no avail. In late August 2001, he left the bureau to take a job as head of security for the World Trade Center, where he died 19 days later at the hands of the enemy he’d told the FBI it should fear. The agents he had trained would end up reshaping the bureau’s counterterrorism operations.

Before 9/11, FBI agents considered chasing terrorists an undesirable career path, and their training did not distinguish between Islamic terror tactics and those employed by groups like the Irish Republican Army. “A bombing case is a bombing case,” Dale Watson, who was the FBI’s counterterrorism chief on 9/11, said in a December 2004 deposition. The FBI also did not train agents in Arabic or require most of them to learn about radical Islam. “I don’t necessarily think you have to know everything about the Ku Klux Klan to investigate a church bombing,” Watson said. The FBI had only one Arabic speaker [50] in New York City and fewer than 10 nationwide.

But shortly after 9/11, President George W. Bush called FBI Director Robert Mueller to Camp David. His message: never again. And so Mueller committed to turn the FBI into a counterintelligence organization rivaling Britain’s MI5 in its capacity for surveillance and clandestine activity. Federal law enforcement went from a focus on fighting crime to preventing crime; instead of accountants and lawyers cracking crime syndicates, the bureau would focus on Jack Bauer-style operators disrupting terror groups.

To help run the counterterrorism section, Mueller drafted Arthur Cummings, a former Navy SEAL who’d investigated the first World Trade Center bombing. Cummings pressed agents to focus not only on their immediate target, but also on the extended web of people linked to the target. “We’re looking for the sympathizer who wants to become an operator, and we want to catch them when they step over that line to operator,” Cummings says. “Sometimes, that step takes 10 years. Other times, it takes 10 minutes.” The FBI’s goal is to create a hostile environment for terrorist recruiters and operators—by raising the risk of even the smallest step toward violent action. It’s a form of deterrence, an adaptation of the “broken windows” theory used to fight urban crime. Advocates insist it has been effective, noting that there hasn’t been a successful large-scale attack against the United States since 9/11. But what can’t be answered—as many former and current FBI agents acknowledge—is how many of the bureau’s targets would have taken the step over the line at all, were it not for an informant.
So how did the FBI build its informant network? It began by asking where US Muslims lived. Four years after 9/11, the bureau brought in a CIA expert on intelligence-gathering methods named Phil Mudd [51]. His tool of choice was a data-mining system using commercially available information, as well as government data such as immigration records, to pinpoint the demographics of specific ethnic and religious communities—say, Iranians in Beverly Hills or Pakistanis in the DC suburbs.

The FBI officially denies that the program, known as Domain Management, works this way—its purpose, the bureau says, is simply to help allocate resources according to threats. But FBI agents told me that with counterterrorism as the bureau’s top priority, agents often look for those threats in Muslim communities—and Domain Management allows them to quickly understand those communities’ makeup. One high-ranking former FBI official jokingly referred to it as “Battlefield Management.”

Some FBI veterans criticized the program as unproductive and intrusive—one told Mudd during a high-level meeting that he’d pushed the bureau to “the dark side.” That tension has its roots in the stark difference between the FBI and the CIA: While the latter is free to operate internationally without regard to constitutional rights, the FBI must respect those rights in domestic investigations, and Mudd’s critics saw the idea of targeting Americans based on their ethnicity and religion as a step too far.

Nonetheless, Domain Management quickly became the foundation for the FBI’s counterterrorism dragnet. Using the demographic data, field agents were directed to target specific communities to recruit informants. Some agents were assigned to the task full time. And across the bureau, agents’ annual performance evaluations are now based in part on their recruiting efforts.

People cooperate with law enforcement for fairly simple reasons: ego, patriotism, money, or coercion. The FBI’s recruitment has relied heavily on the latter. One tried-and-true method is to flip someone facing criminal charges. But since 9/11 the FBI has also relied heavily on Immigration and Customs Enforcement [42], with which it has worked closely as part of increased interagency coordination. A typical scenario will play out like this: An FBI agent trying to get someone to cooperate will look for evidence that the person has immigration troubles. If they do, he can ask ICE to begin or expedite deportation proceedings. If the immigrant then chooses to cooperate, the FBI will tell the court that he is a valuable asset, averting deportation.

A well-muscled 49-year-old with a shaved scalp, Craig Monteilh has been a versatile snitch: He’s pretended to be a white supremacist, a Russian hit man, a Sicilian drug trafficker, and a French-Syrian Muslim.

Sometimes, the target of this kind of push is the one person in a mosque who will know everyone’s business—the imam. Two Islamic religious leaders, Foad Farahi [52] in Miami and Sheikh Tarek Saleh in New York City, are currently fighting deportation proceedings that, they claim, began after they refused to become FBI assets. The Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center has filed similar complaints on behalf of seven other Muslims with the Department of Homeland Security.

Once someone has signed on as an informant, the first assignment is often a fishing expedition. Informants have said in court testimony that FBI handlers have tasked them with infiltrating mosques without a specific target or “predicate”—the term of art for the reason why someone is investigated. They were, they say, directed to surveil law-abiding Americans with no indication of criminal intent.

“The FBI is now telling agents they can go into houses of worship without probable cause,” says Farhana Khera, executive director of the San Francisco-based civil rights group Muslim Advocates. “That raises serious constitutional issues.”

Tidwell himself will soon have to defend these practices in court—he’s among those named in a class-action lawsuit [53] (PDF) over an informant’s allegation that the FBI used him to spy on a number of mosques in Southern California.

That informant, Craig Monteilh, is a convicted felon who made his money ripping off cocaine dealers before becoming an asset for the Drug Enforcement Administration and later the FBI. A well-muscled 49-year-old with a shaved scalp, Monteilh has been a particularly versatile snitch: He’s pretended to be a white supremacist, a Russian hit man, and a Sicilian drug trafficker. He says when the FBI sent him into mosques (posing as a French-Syrian Muslim), he was told to act as a decoy for any radicals who might seek to convert him—and to look for information to help flip congregants as informants, such as immigration status, extramarital relationships, criminal activities, and drug use. “Blackmail is the ultimate goal,” Monteilh says.

Officially, the FBI denies it blackmails informants. “We are prohibited from using threats or coercion,” says Kathleen Wright, an FBI spokeswoman. (She acknowledges that the bureau has prevented helpful informants from being deported.)

FBI veterans say reality is different from the official line. “We could go to a source and say, ‘We know you’re having an affair. If you work with us, we won’t tell your wife,’” says a former top FBI counterterrorism official. “Would we actually call the wife if the source doesn’t cooperate? Not always. You do get into ethics here—is this the right thing to do?—but legally this isn’t a question. If you obtained the information legally, then you can use it however you want.”

But eventually, Monteilh’s operation imploded in spectacular fashion. In December 2007, police in Irvine, California, charged him with bilking two women out of $157,000 as part of an alleged human growth hormone scam. Monteilh has maintained it was actually part of an FBI investigation, and that agents instructed him to plead guilty to a grand-theft charge and serve eight months so as not to blow his cover. The FBI would “clean up” the charge later, Monteilh says he was told. That didn’t happen, and Monteilh has alleged in court filings that the government put him in danger by letting fellow inmates know that he was an informant. (FBI agents told me the bureau wouldn’t advise an informant to plead guilty to a state criminal charge; instead, agents would work with local prosecutors to delay or dismiss the charge.)

The class-action suit, filed by the ACLU, alleges that Tidwell, then the bureau’s Los Angeles-based assistant director, signed off on Monteilh’s operation. And Tidwell says he’s eager to defend the bureau in court. “There is not the blanket suspicion of the Muslim community that they think there is,” Tidwell says. “We’re just looking for the bad guys. Anything the FBI does is going to be interpreted as monitoring Muslims. I would tell [critics]: ‘Do you really think I have the time and money to monitor all the mosques and Arab American organizations? We don’t. And I don’t want to.’”
Shady informants, of course, are as old as the FBI; one saying in the bureau is, “To catch the devil, you have to go to hell.” Another is, “The only problem worse than having an informant is not having an informant.” Back in the ’80s, the FBI made a cottage industry of drug stings—a source of countless Hollywood plots, often involving briefcases full of cocaine and Miami as the backdrop.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that one of the earliest known terrorism stings also unfolded in Miami, though it wasn’t launched by the FBI. Instead the protagonist was a Canadian bodyguard and, as a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, newspaper put it in 2002 [54], “a 340-pound man with a fondness for firearms and strippers.” He subscribed to Soldier of Fortune[55] and hung around a police supply store on a desolate stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, north of Miami.

Howard Gilbert aspired to be a CIA agent but lacked pertinent experience. So to pad his résumé, he hatched a plan to infiltrate a mosque in the suburb of Pembroke Pines by posing as a Muslim convert named Saif Allah [56]. He told congregants that he was a former Marine and a security expert, and one night in late 2000, he gave a speech about the plight of Palestinians.

“That was truly the night that launched me into the terrorist umbrella of South Florida,” Gilbert would later brag [57] to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Nineteen-year-old congregant Imran Mandhai, stirred by the oration, approached Gilbert and asked if he could provide him weapons and training. Gilbert, who had been providing information to the FBI, contacted his handlers and asked for more money to work on the case. (He later claimed that the bureau had paid him $6,000.) But he ultimately couldn’t deliver—the target had sensed something fishy about his new friend.

The bureau also brought in Elie Assaad [58], a seasoned informant originally from Lebanon. He told Mandhai that he was an associate of Osama bin Laden tasked with establishing a training camp in the United States. Gilbert suggested attacking electrical substations in South Florida, and Assaad offered to provide a weapon. FBI agents then arrested Mandhai; he pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. It was a model of what would become the bureau’s primary counterterrorism M.O.—identifying a target, offering a plot, and then pouncing.

"These guys were homeless types," one former FBI official says about the alleged Sears Tower plotters. "And yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what?": Illustration: Jeffrey Smith“These guys were homeless types,” one former FBI official says about the alleged Sears Tower plotters. “And yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what?” Illustration: Jeffrey Smith

Gilbert himself didn’t get to bask in his glory; he never worked for the FBI again and died in 2004. Assaad, for his part, ran into some trouble when his pregnant wife called 911. She said Assaad had beaten and choked her to the point that she became afraid[59] for her unborn baby; he was arrested, but in the end his wife refused to press charges.

The jail stint didn’t keep Assaad from working for the FBI on what would turn out to be perhaps the most high-profile terrorism bust of the post-9/11 era. In 2005, the bureau got a tip [60] from an informant about a group of alleged terrorists in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. The targets were seven men [61]—some African American, others Haitian—who called themselves the“Seas of David” [62] and ascribed to religious beliefs that blended Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The men were martial-arts enthusiasts who operated out of a dilapidated warehouse, where they also taught classes for local kids. The Seas of David’s leader was Narseal Batiste [63], the son of a Louisiana preacher, father of four, and a former Guardian Angel.

In response to the informant’s tip, the FBI had him wear a wire during meetings with the men, but he wasn’t able to engage them in conversations about terrorist plots. So he introduced the group to Assaad, now playing an Al Qaeda operative. At the informant’s request, Batiste took photographs of the FBI office in North Miami Beach and was caught on tape discussing a notion to bomb the Sears Tower in Chicago. Assaad led Batiste, and later the other men, in swearing an oath to Al Qaeda, though the ceremony (recorded and entered into evidence at trial) bore a certain “Who’s on First?” flavor:

God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact,” Assaad said as he and Batiste sat in his car. “Repeat after me.”

“Okay. Allah’s pledge is upon you.”

“No, you have to repeat exactly. God’s pledge is upon me, and so is his compact. You have to repeat.”

Ultimately, the undercover recordings suggest that Batiste was mostly trying to shake down his “terrorist” friend.

“Well, I can’t say Allah?” Batiste asked.

“Yeah, but this is an English version because Allah, you can say whatever you want, but—”

“Okay. Of course.”

“Okay.”

Allah’s pledge is upon me. And so is his compact,” Batiste said, adding: “That means his angels, right?”

“Uh, huh. To commit myself,” Assaad continued.

To commit myself.”

Brother.”

Brother,” Batiste repeated.

“Uh. That’s, uh, what’s your, uh, what’s your name, brother?”

“Ah, Brother Naz.”

“Okay. To commit myself,” the informant repeated.

To commit myself.”

Brother.”

Brother.”

“You’re not—you have to say your name!” Assaad cried.

“Naz. Naz.”

“Uh. To commit myself. I am Brother Naz. You can say, ‘To commit myself.’”

To commit myself, Brother Naz.”

Things went smoothly until Assaad got to a reference to being “protective of the secrecy of the oath and to the directive of Al Qaeda.”

Here Batiste stopped. “And to…what is the directive of?”

Directive of Al Qaeda,” the informant answered.

“So now let me ask you this part here. That means that Al Qaeda will be over us?”

“No, no, no, no, no,” Assaad said. “It’s an alliance.”

“Oh. Well…” Batiste said, sounding resigned.

“It’s an alliance, but it’s like a commitment, by, uh, like, we respect your rules. You respect our rules,” Assaad explained.

“Uh, huh,” Batiste mumbled.

And to the directive of Al Qaeda,” Assaad said, waiting for Batiste to repeat.

“Okay, can I say an alliance?” Batiste asked. “And to the alliance of Al Qaeda?

Of the alliance, of the directive—” Assaad said, catching himself. “You know what you can say? And to the directive and the alliance of Al Qaeda.”

“Okay, directive and alliance of Al Qaeda,” Batiste said.

“Okay,” the informant said. “Now officially you have commitment and we have alliance between each other. And welcome, Brother Naz, to Al Qaeda.”

Or not. Ultimately, the undercover recordings made by Assaad suggest that Batiste, who had a failing drywall business and had trouble making the rent for the warehouse, was mostly trying to shake down his “terrorist” friend. After first asking the informant for $50,000, Batiste is recorded in conversation after conversation asking how soon he’ll have the cash.

“Let me ask you a question,” he says in one exchange. “Once I give you an account number, how long do you think it’s gonna take to get me something in?”

“So you is scratching my back, [I'm] scratching your back—we’re like this,” Assaad dodged.

“Right,” Batiste said.

“When we put forth a case like that to suggest to the American public that we’re protecting them, we’re not protecting them. The agents back in the bullpen, they know it’s not true.”

The money never materialized. Neither did any specific terrorist plot. Nevertheless, federal prosecutors charged (PDF [64]) Batiste and his cohorts—whom the media dubbed the Liberty City Seven—with conspiracy to support terrorism, destroy buildings, and levy war against the US government. Perhaps the key piece of evidence was the video of Assaad’s Al Qaeda “oath.” Assaad was reportedly paid [65] $85,000 for his work on the case; the other informant got $21,000.

James J. Wedick, a former FBI agent, was hired to review the Liberty City case as a consultant for the defense. In his opinion, the informant simply picked low-hanging fruit. “These guys couldn’t find their way down the end of the street,” Wedick says. “They were homeless types. And, yes, we did show a picture where somebody was taking the oath to Al Qaeda. So what? They didn’t care. They only cared about the money. When we put forth a case like that to suggest to the American public that we’re protecting them, we’re not protecting them. The agents back in the bullpen, they know it’s not true.”

Indeed, the Department of Justice had a difficult time winning convictions in the Liberty City case. In three separate trials, juries deadlocked [66]on most of the charges, eventually acquitting one of the defendants (charges against another were dropped) and convicting five of crimes that landed them in prison for between 7 to 13 years. When it was all over, Assaad told ABC News’ Brian Ross [58] that he had a special sense for terrorists: “God gave me a certain gift.”

But he didn’t have a gift for sensing trouble. After the Liberty City case, Assaad moved on to Texas and founded a low-rent modeling agency [67]. In March, when police tried to pull him over, he led them in a chase through El Paso [68] (with his female passenger jumping out at one point), hit a cop with his car, and ended up rolling his SUV on the freeway. Reached by phone, Assaad declined to comment. He’s saving his story, he says, for a book he’s pitching to publishers.

Not all of the more than 500 terrorism prosecutions [25] reviewed in this investigation are so action-movie ready. But many do have an element of mystery. For example, though recorded conversations are often a key element of prosecutions, in many sting cases the FBI didn’t record large portions of the investigation, particularly during initial encounters or at key junctures during the sting. When those conversations come up in court, the FBI and prosecutors will instead rely on the account of an informant with a performance bonus on the line.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud was an 18-yeaer old wannabe rapper when an FBI agent asked if he'd like to "help the brothers." Eventually the FBI gave him a fake car bomb and a phone to blow it up during a Christmas tree lighting.: Illustration: Jeffrey SmithMohamed Osman Mohamud [69] was an 18-year old wannabe rapper when an FBI agent asked if he’d like to “help the brothers.” Eventually the FBI gave him a fake car bomb and a phone to blow it up during a Christmas tree lighting. Illustration: Jeffrey Smith

 

One of the most egregious examples of a missing recording involves a convoluted tale that begins in the early morning hours of November 1, 2009, with a date-rape allegation on the campus of Oregon State University. Following a Halloween party, 18-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud [70], a Somali-born US citizen, went home with another student. The next morning, the woman reported to police that she believed she had been drugged.

Campus police brought Mohamud in for questioning and a polygraph test; FBI agents, who for reasons that have not been disclosed had been keeping an eye on the teen for about a month, were also there [71]. Mohamud claimed that the sex was consensual, and a drug test given to his accuser eventually came back negative.

During the interrogation, OSU police asked Mohamud if a search of his laptop would indicate that he’d researched date-rape drugs. He said it wouldn’t and gave them permission to examine his hard drive. Police copied its entire contents and turned the data over to the FBI—which discovered, it later alleged in court documents, that Mohamud had emailed someone in northwest Pakistan talking about jihad.

Soon after his run-in with police, Mohamud began to receive emails from “Bill Smith,” a self-described terrorist who encouraged him to “help the brothers.” “Bill,” an FBI agent, arranged for Mohamud to meet one of his associates in a Portland hotel room. There, Mohamud told the agents that he’d been thinking of jihad since age 15. When asked what he might want to attack, Mohamud suggested the city’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony [72]. The agents set Mohamud up with a van that he thought was filled with explosives. On November 26, 2010, Mohamud and one of the agents drove the van to Portland’s Pioneer Square, and Mohamud dialed [73] the phone to trigger the explosion. Nothing. He dialed again. Suddenly FBI agents appeared and dragged him away as he kicked and yelled, “Allahu akbar!” Prosecutors charged him with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction; his trial is pending.

The FBI’s defenders say the bureau must flush out terrorist sympathizers before they act. “What would you do?” asks one. “Wait for him to figure it out himself?”

The Portland case has been held up as an example of how FBI stings can make a terrorist where there might have been only an angry loser. “This is a kid who, it can be reasonably inferred, barely had the capacity to put his shoes on in the morning,” Wedick says.

But Tidwell, the retired FBI official, says Mohamud was exactly the kind of person the FBI needs to flush out. “That kid was pretty specific about what he wanted to do,” he says. “What would you do in response? Wait for him to figure it out himself? If you’ll notice, most of these folks [targeted in stings] plead guilty. They don’t say, ‘I’ve been entrapped,’ or, ‘I was immature.’” That’s true—though it’s also true that defendants and their attorneys know that the odds of succeeding at trial are vanishingly small. Nearly two-thirds of all terrorism prosecutions since 9/11 have ended in guilty pleas, and experts hypothesize that it’s difficult for such defendants to get a fair trial. “The plots people are accused of being part of—attacking subway systems or trying to bomb a building—are so frightening that they can overwhelm a jury,” notes David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who has studied these types of cases.
But the Mohamud story wasn’t quite over—it would end up changing the course of another case on the opposite side of the country. In Maryland, rookie FBI agent Keith Bender had been working a sting against 21-year-old Antonio Martinez [74], a recent convert to Islam who’d posted inflammatory comments on Facebook [75] (“The sword is cummin the reign of oppression is about 2 cease inshallah”). An FBI informant had befriended Martinez and, in recorded conversations, they talked about attacking a military recruiting station.

Just as the sting was building to its climax, Martinez saw news reports about the Mohamud case, and how there was an undercover operative involved. He worried: Was he, too, being lured into a sting? He called his supposed terrorist contact: “I’m not falling for no BS,” he told him [75].

Faced with the risk of losing the target, the informant—whose name is not revealed in court records—met with Martinez and pulled him back into the plot. But while the informant had recorded numerous previous meetings with Martinez, no recording [76] was made for this key conversation; in affidavits, the FBI blamed a technical glitch. Two weeks later, on December 8, 2010, Martinez parked what he thought was a car bomb in front of a recruitment center and was arrested when he tried to detonate [77] it.

Frances Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, concedes that missing recordings in terrorism stings seem suspicious. But, she says, it’s more common than you might think: “I can’t tell you how many times I had FBI agents in front of me and I yelled, ‘You have hundreds of hours of recordings, but you didn’t record this meeting.’ Sometimes, I admit, they might not record something intentionally”—for fear, she says, that the target will notice. “But more often than not, it’s a technical issue.”

Wedick, the former FBI agent, is less forgiving. “With the technology the FBI now has access to—these small devices that no one would ever suspect are recorders or transmitters—there’s no excuse not to tape interactions between the informant and the target,” he says. “So why in many of these terrorism stings are meetings not recorded? Because it’s convenient for the FBI not to record.”

So what really happens as an informant works his target, sometimes over a period of years, and eases him over the line? For the answer to that, consider once more the case of James Cromitie [8], the Walmart stocker with a hatred of Jews. Cromitie was the ringleader in the much-publicized Bronx synagogue bombing plot that went to trial last year[78]. But a closer look at the record reveals that while Cromitie was no one’s idea of a nice guy, whatever leadership existed in the plot emanated from his sharply dressed, smooth-talking friend Maqsood, a.k.a. FBI informant Shahed Hussain.

A Pakistani refugee who claimed to be friends with Benazir Bhutto and had a soft spot for fancy cars, Hussain was by then one of the FBI’s more successful counterterrorism informants. (See our timeline of Hussain’s career as an informant [13].) He’d originally come to the bureau’s attention when he was busted in a DMV scam [79] that charged test takers $300 to $500 for a license. Having “worked off” those charges, he’d transitioned from indentured informant to paid snitch, earning as much as $100,000 per assignment.

At trial, informant Hussain admitted that he created the “impression” that his target would make big money by bombing synagogues in the Bronx.

Hussain was assigned to visit a mosque in Newburgh, where he would start conversations with strangers about jihad [80]. “I was finding people who would be harmful, and radicals, and identify them for the FBI,” Hussain said during Cromitie’s trial. Most of the mosque’s congregants were poor, and Hussain, who posed as a wealthy businessman and always arrived in one of his four luxury cars [81]—a Hummer, a Mercedes, two different BMWs—made plenty of friends. But after more than a year working the local Muslim community, he had not identified a single actual target [82].

Then, one day in June 2008, Cromitie approached Hussain in the parking lot outside the mosque. The two became friends, and Hussain clearly had Cromitie’s number. “Allah didn’t bring you here to work for Walmart,” he told him [83] at one point.

Cromitie, who once claimed he could “con the corn from the cob,” had a history of mental instability. He told a psychiatrist that he saw and heard things that weren’t there and had twice tried to commit suicide [84]. He told tall tales, most of them entirely untrue—like the one about how his brother stole $126 million worth of stuff from Tiffany.

Exactly what Hussain and Cromitie talked about in the first four months of their relationship isn’t known, because the FBI did not record [85] those conversations. Based on later conversations, it’s clear that Hussain cultivated Cromitie assiduously. He took the target, all expenses paid [86] by the FBI, to an Islamic conference in Philadelphia to meet Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a prominent African-American Muslim leader. He helped pay Cromitie’s rent [87]. He offered to buy him a barbershop [88]. Finally, he asked Cromitie to recruit others [89] and help him bomb synagogues.

On April 7, 2009, at 2:45 p.m., Cromitie and Hussain sat on a couch inside an FBI cover house on Shipp Street in Newburgh. A hidden camera [90] was trained on the living room.

“I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Cromitie told the informant [91].

“Who? I—”

“Think about it before you speak,” Cromitie interrupted.

“If there is American soldiers, I don’t care,” Hussain said, trying a fresh angle.

“Hold up,” Cromitie agreed. “If it’s American soldiers, I don’t even care.”

“If it’s kids, I care,” Hussain said. “If it’s women, I care.”

“I care. That’s what I’m worried about. And I’m going to tell you, I don’t care if it’s a whole synagogue of men.”

“Yep.”

“I would take ‘em down, I don’t even care. ‘Cause I know they are the ones.”

“We have the equipment to do it.”

“See, see, I’m not worried about nothing. Ya know? What I’m worried about is my safety,” Cromitie said.

“Oh, yeah, safety comes first.”

“I want to get in and I want to get out.”

“Trust me,” Hussain assured.

At Cromitie’s trial, Hussain would admit that he created the—in his word—”impression” that Cromitie would make a lot of money by bombing synagogues.

“I can make you $250,000, but you don’t want it, brother,” he once told [92] Cromitie when the target seemed hesitant. “What can I tell you?” (Asked about the exchange in court, Hussain said that “$250,000″ was simply a code word for the bombing plot—a code word, he admitted, that only he knew.)

But whether for ideology or money, Cromitie did recruit three others, and they did take photographs of Stewart International Airport in Newburgh as well as of synagogues in the Bronx. On May 20, 2009, Hussain drove Cromitie [93] to the Bronx, where Cromitie put what he believed were bombs [94] inside cars he thought had been parked by Hussain’s coconspirators. Once all the dummy bombs were placed, Cromitie headed back to the getaway car [95]—Hussain was in the driver’s seat—and then a SWAT team surrounded the car.

At trial, Cromitie told the judge [96]: “I am not a violent person. I’ve never been a terrorist, and I never will be. I got myself into this stupid mess. I know I said a lot of stupid stuff.” He was sentenced to 25 years.

For his trouble, the FBI paid Hussain $96,000 [97]. Then he moved on to another case, another mosque, somewhere in the United States.

For this project, Mother Jones partnered with the University of California-Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program [98], headed by Lowell Bergman, where Trevor Aaronson[1] was an investigative fellow. The Fund for Investigative Journalism [99] also provided support for Aaronson’s reporting. Lauren Ellis [100] and Hamed Aleaziz [101]contributed additional research.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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